Image of Jennifer L. Gay, Ph.D.

Leisure-time physical activity may help prevent burnout among healthcare workers, a crowdsourced study has found.

Investigators from the University of Georgia queried 550 healthcare industry workers gathered from a major crowdsourcing marketplace. All worked at least 35 hours per week, had one or more supervisors and one or more co-workers, and were aged at least 18 years old.

Participants self-reported the amount of physical activity they engaged in on the job and during their leisure time. They also recorded their feelings of well-being, job stress and burnout — defined as exhaustion and disengagement. Physical activity on the job was significantly tied to greater job stress and exhaustion, the researchers found. In contrast, participants who had more physical activity during their leisure time were less likely to report feelings of exhaustion.

Leisure time activity allows people to release the work-related tension that can build over time, wrote senior author Jennifer L. Gay, Ph.D., and colleagues.

“The stress cycle begins with a stressor, then an individual’s physiological response to that stressor, and optimally, a release from the body’s physiological response,” Gay concluded. “It is important for healthcare workers to be able to find that release to minimize stress and burnout. 

“Physical activity is one strategy for exiting out of the stress cycle, even when the stressor is still present, like the pandemic,” she said.

Notably, the effect of leisure time physical activity on stress was lower when job-related physical activity was at self-reported peak levels, investigators said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.