Background: Occupational burnout is both a serious public and individual health concern. Psychopharmacological and psychological interventions are often employed, while interventions involving physical activity have been less frequently studied. The aims of the present study were (1) to investigate the effects of physical activity on mitochondrial activity levels and symptoms of burnout, (2) to compare the mitochondrial activity levels and symptoms of burnout of individuals suffering burnout with those of healthy controls (HCs), and (3) to explore the associations between mitochondrial activity and burnout symptoms. Methods: Twelve males with burnout (mean age: M = 45.8 years) took part in the study. At baseline and after 12 weeks of an intervention involving physical activity, participants completed questionnaires covering symptoms of burnout and depression. In parallel, blood samples were taken to measure changes in mitochondrial functional outcomes, such as ATP levels, oxygen consumption and complex I. For comparison, baseline values of healthy controls (HCs; depression and burnout questionnaires; blood samples) were assessed. Results: Over time, symptoms of burnout (emotional exhaustion and depersonalization) and depression significantly decreased in participants with burnout (large effect sizes) but remained significantly higher than those of HCs (medium to large effect sizes). Personal accomplishment increased over time (medium effect size) but was still lower than for HCs (large effect size). At baseline and compared to HCs, individuals with burnout had significantly lower ATP levels of mitochondrial functional outcomes. Over time, mitochondrial activity levels increased among individuals with burnout. High baseline mitochondrial activity was significantly correlated with lower depression and burnout scores both at baseline and at the end of the study. Conclusions: In individuals with burnout, regular physical activity had positive effects on mitochondrial activity and on symptoms of burnout and depression. However, when compared to healthy controls, full remission was not achieved.
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