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Aerobic exercise training and burnout: a pilot study with male participants suffering from burnout

Markus Gerber1*, Serge Brand2, Catherine Elliot1, Edith Holsboer-Trachsler2, Uwe Pühse1 and Johannes Beck2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

2 Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, Center for Affective, Stress and Sleep Disorders, Basel, Switzerland

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BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:78  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-78

Published: 4 March 2013



Occupational burnout is associated with severe negative health effects. While stress management programs proved to have a positive influence on the well-being of patients suffering from burnout, it remains unclear whether aerobic exercise alleviates burnout severity and other parameters related to occupational burnout. Therefore, the main purpose of this study was to pilot-test the potential outcomes of a 12-week exercise training to generate hypotheses for future larger scale studies.


The sample consisted of 12 male participants scoring high on the MBI emotional exhaustion and depersonalization subscales. The training program took place in a private fitness center with a 17.5 kcal/kg minimum requirement of weekly energy expenditure.


The key findings are that increased exercise reduced overall perceived stress as well as symptoms of burnout and depression. The magnitude of the effects was large, revealing changes of substantial practical relevance. Additionally, profiles of mood states improved considerably after single exercise sessions with a marked shift towards an iceberg profile.


Among burnout patients, the findings provide preliminary evidence that exercise has the potential to reduce stress and prevent the development of a deeper depression. This has important health implications given that burnout is considered an antecedent of depressive disorders.

Trial registration Identifier: ISRNCT01575743

Aerobic exercise; Burnout; Depressive symptoms; Maslach Burnout Inventory; Mood; Stress