Investigating the relationship between physical activity and burnout in medical students


Healthy medical students turn into healthy physicians who deliver quality care to patients. However, levels of burnout in medical students are higher than in the general population (Wasson et al., 2016). Much research has shown the benefits of physical activity on mental health, however less is known about the link between physical activity and burnout and no study to our knowledge has been conducted with medical students. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between mild, moderate and strenuous forms of physical activity and burnout in first to fourth year medical students. Medical students enrolled at two Canadian universities (N = 129) completed online questionnaires in the late fall and early winter measuring physical activity (Godin Leisure Time Questionnaire) and burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory-2-item). A between-groups MANOVA was performed to investigate differences in minutes of strenuous, moderate and mild physical activity/week. The fixed factor was burnout (2 categories: burned out vs. not burned out). Although not reaching statistical significance, those who were burned out reported greater minutes of strenuous physical activity/week (M = 144.6) compared to individuals who were not burned out (M = 128.19). These results dispute a common belief that more physical activity is always better. In fact, they seem to show that for this high achieving and busy group doing too intense physical activity can be damaging. More research on this topic is needed in order to make physical activity recommendations for future physicians who are the cornerstone of our healthcare system.