Home Mental Health & Well-Being App-Based Exercise Reduces Depressive Symptoms in Healthcare Workers – But Adherence Declines Over Time

App-Based Exercise Reduces Depressive Symptoms in Healthcare Workers – But Adherence Declines Over Time

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In a recent study published by JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found that a 12-week app-based exercise regimen significantly decreased depressive symptoms among healthcare workers (HCWs). However, by the trial’s end, adherence had substantially dropped.

Burnout and mental health issues surged among HCWs during the Covid pandemic. Previous studies recorded a notable increase in burnout symptoms among physicians, with a jump from 38.2% in 2020 to 62.8% in 2021. If unchecked, these mental health challenges may exacerbate already concerning workforce shortages in healthcare.

In this new research, approximately 300 HCWs were divided between an intervention group and a control group. The former was guided to engage in four 20-minute exercise sessions every week for 12 weeks, facilitated through the Down Dog suite of apps. These applications offered varied exercises, from interval training to yoga and running.

Key findings from the study for the intervention group included:

  • A small to medium treatment effect on depressive symptoms by the trial’s conclusion.
  • Significant reductions in measures for burnout related to cynicism and emotional exhaustion. However, there was only a minimal improvement in the professional efficacy burnout measure.
  • A modest decrease in sick days taken by healthcare workers.
  • Adherence to the 80-minute weekly exercise stipulation declined over the 12-week period, plunging from 54.9% participation in the initial week to just 23.2% by week 12.
  • Optimal outcomes were seen in participants who maintained at least 80 minutes of exercise weekly.
  • Those exercising under 20 minutes weekly showed no significant impact on depressive symptoms, burnout, or absenteeism.

The authors stated: “Although exercise mitigated depressive symptoms in HCWs, adherence waned towards the study’s conclusion. The key challenge is ensuring sustained participation to continuously benefit HCWs’ mental health.”

The efficacy of the app-based intervention seems contingent on regular use. The authors emphasized the potential of at-home exercise, asserting that it can substantially benefit HCWs, provided they consistently use the exercise apps.

Addressing adherence challenges, the authors highlighted the potential interference of unmeasured stressors at home or work. They proposed that the success of such programs might necessitate additional professional support for some individuals. This could include health coaches using motivational interviewing techniques or even psychological interventions.

The researchers advocated for extensive trials examining the role of exercise in HCWs’ well-being. These could potentially offer a cost-effective strategy to enhance wellness and counter the rising mental health crisis in the healthcare sector.

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