Sweating Out Stress: Comparing Medical Student Burnout in Group vs. Individual Exercise

Andrew Braun


 Purpose: The topic of burnout is growing in popularity within medical education. Since it has been widely accepted that exercise can improve mental health, this study aimed to identify the types of exercise that best improve stress, burnout, well-being, and academic performance in medical students.

Methods: This prospective mixed methods study compared medical students’ exercise habits to indicators of their well-being, burnout, stress, and academic performance. The expanded Physician Well Being Index was used to measure quality of life, burnout, fatigue, meaning of work, and satisfaction of work/life balance. An original survey instrument was used to collect baseline data on participants’ approach to physical health and the role it plays in well-being.

Results: Results from students who completed the ePWBI at the three offered time points (n=43) were analyzed using repeated measures analysis of variance techniques. We found significant linear trends at all three time points showing lower ePWBI scores (range -2 to 9) in the following pattern: group exercise < individual exercise < group and individual exercise < neither group nor individual exercise. At the beginning of the study, the trend for the ePWBI showed group exercise superior to all others (group, mean =-0.57; individual, mean = 0.78; group and individual, mean = 1.13; neither group nor individual exercise, mean = 1.80, p=0.037). A similar trend was found for the halfway point (group, mean =-0.14; individual, mean = 0.83; group and individual, mean = 1.50; neither group nor individual exercise, mean = 1.80, p=0.022), and the conclusion (group, mean =-0.29; individual, mean = 0.43; group and individual, mean = 1.00; neither group nor individual exercise, mean = 2.00, p=0.050). When looking at matched survey responses across the three time points, 20 out of 43 students quoted time as their greatest barrier to more routine exercise. When surveyed about overcoming this barrier, 19 students stated that improved motivation and prioritization would enable them to exercise more regularly. Thirteen students noted that lack of control over their medical school schedule keeps them from achieving exercise goals.

Conclusion: This prospective study identified the trend that medical students who participate in group exercise have improved well-being when compared to students who do not participate in group exercise. 

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