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The University of British Columbia’s recent study highlights that utilizing exercise apps for straightforward home workouts can significantly diminish depressive symptoms among healthcare workers. This approach holds promise as a vital strategy to address the prevalent mental health challenges within the industry.

Exercise improves emotional exhaustion and cynicism

The research published in JAMA Psychiatry categorized volunteers into a waiting list control group or an active group provided with free access to the DownDog suite of home exercise apps offering cardio, yoga, and strength training. The participants were instructed to achieve a minimum of 80 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week for 12 weeks.

Dr. Vincent Gosselin-Boucher from UBC’s school of kinesiology said that the exercise group demonstrated remarkable reduction in depressive symptoms compared to the control group throughout the study. Many participants initially had high levels of depressive symptoms, making the observed improvements even more impressive.

The study found that participants who engaged in an average of at least 80 minutes of exercise per week experienced significant positive effects. The researchers assessed depressive symptoms, burnout symptoms, and sick days over the study period. Interestingly the exercise group showed improvements in cynicism and emotional exhaustion, both facets of burnout, and also had fewer sick days compared to the control group.

Exercising can reduce depressive symptoms

Previous studies have demonstrated the positive impact of exercise on reducing depressive symptoms. However, researchers have identified a gap in the mental health strategies provided by global healthcare institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. They noted that these initiatives lack behavioral interventions like exercise to effectively address the mental health challenges faced by healthcare staff.

According to the study, utilizing exercise apps for home workouts, even with minimal equipment, can notably improve the mental well-being of healthcare professionals. Dr. Eli Puterman, the lead author and an associate professor at UBC’s school of kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Health, highlights this as the pioneering evidence of such benefits. Providing convenient and accessible exercise options could serve as a valuable strategy for employers to bolster their employees’ mental health.