The efficacy of physical activity to improve the mental wellbeing of healthcare workers: A systematic review

Rebecca Nicole Martland*, Ruimin Ma, Vigneshwar Paleri, Lucia Valmaggia, Simon Riches, Joseph Firth, Brendon Stubbs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Introduction: Clinical staff who work in healthcare settings experience work-related stress which can lead to emotional and physical burnout, anxiety, depression, and poorer mental wellbeing. In the general population, exercise and physical activity are associated with greater mental wellbeing, reduced incidence of depression, improvements in mood and sleep quality, and reductions in stress. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate the effects of exercise and physical activity interventions, delivered both in the workplace and outside of work, on mental wellbeing, stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, and sleep in healthcare professionals. Methods: Major databases were searched from inception to June 2023 for intervention studies investigating aerobic, non-aerobic exercise and resistance training, or interventions designed to increase physical activity amongst healthcare workers. Study quality was assessed using Cochrane and Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) checklists. Results: The search retrieved 16 intervention studies, including 11 randomised controlled trials (RCTs). There was consistent evidence of a reduction in psychological stress (3/3, 100% of RCTs) and improvement of sleep quality (3/4, 75%) following exercise compared to non-active controls. There was inconclusive evidence regarding the effects of exercise and physical activity on mental wellbeing, depression severity, burnout, traumatic stress, and fatigue. Neither exercise nor physical activity appeared to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Discussion: Exercise and interventions to increase physical activity may be a viable and effective intervention to improve some aspects of mental wellbeing in healthcare professionals, although more large-scale, high-quality trials are needed to establish the full range of benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100577
JournalMental Health and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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