Working out not only keeps people physically fit but also keeps them happier on the job, according to Israeli university researchers.
If you don’t get enough physical activity, you’re more likely to experience on-the-job burnout and depression, according to research by occupational health expert Sharon Toker of Tel Aviv University and human resources management expert Michal Biron from the University of Haifa.
The two women discovered that employees who took the time to engage in physical activity were healthier emotionally. In particular, people who exercised for four hours per week were approximately half as likely to experience deterioration in their mental state as those who did no physical activity.
In a recent article in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Toker and Biron suggest that employers could benefit from encouraging the physical fitness of their employees.
Building a gym on company grounds, subsidizing gym memberships or allowing for flexible work hours to encourage physical activity are all strategies that pay business dividends in the long run by lowering heath costs, reducing absenteeism and increasing workplace productivity.
Preventing a downward spiral
Depression and burnout are connected but not the same, explained Toker. Depression is a clinical mood disorder, while burnout is defined by physical, cognitive and emotional exhaustion. Both contribute toward a “spiral of loss,” for instance a failing marriage that results from the negative consequences of getting laid off from a job.
Toker and Biron originally set out to examine the relationship between depression and burnout. Their study assessed the personal, occupational and psychological states of 1,632 healthy Israeli workers in the private and public sectors. Participants completed questionnaires when they came for routine checkups and had three follow-up appointments over a period of nine years.
Findings indicated that an increase in depression predicts an increase in job burnout over time, and vice versa. But for the first time, the researchers also considered the participants’ levels of physical activity, defined as any activity that increases the heart rate and brings on a sweat.
The participants were divided into four groups: one did not engage in physical activity; the second did 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity per week; the third did 150 to 240 minutes a week; and the fourth got more than 240 minutes a week of physical activity.
Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the first group. The more physical activity participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years.
At 150 minutes per week, the benefits of working out really started to take effect, and the impact of burnout and depression was almost nonexistent in those who engaged in 240 minutes of physical activity or more.