Avoiding exercise could be bad for our mental health too, pushing us into the pit of depression and causing burnout at work.
Sharon Toker, management expert at the Tel Aviv University, with Michal Biron from the University of Haifa, discovered that employees who did engage in physical activity were less likely to experience a deterioration of their mental health, including symptoms of burnout and depression.
The best benefits were achieved among those exercising for four hours per week - they were approximately half as likely to experience deterioration in their mental state as those who did no physical activity.
Toker and Biron say that employers will benefit from encouraging fitness of their employees. If the fight against obesity is not enough of an incentive, inspiring workers to be physically active lessens high health costs, reduces absenteeism, and increases productivity in the workplace, the Journal of Applied Psychology reports.
Though depression and burnout are connected, they are not the same, says Toker. Depression is a clinical mood disorder and burnout is defined by physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion, according to a Tel Aviv statement.
But both contribute towards a "spiral of loss" where the loss of one resource, such as a job, could have a domino effect and lead to the loss of other resources such as one's home, marriage, or sense of self-worth.
Originally designed to examine the relationship between depression and burnout, the study assessed the personal, occupational, and psychological states of 1,632 healthy Israeli workers in both the private and public sectors.
Participants completed questionnaires when they came to medical clinics for routine check-ups and had three follow-up appointments over a period of nine years.
The participants were divided into four groups: one that did not engage in physical activity; a second that did 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity a week; a third that did 150 to 240 minutes a week; and a fourth that did more than 240 minutes a week.
Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the group that did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years.
The optimal amount of physical activity was a minimum of 150 minutes per week, where its benefits really started to take effect.