Burnout? Why You Should Pause High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

by georgia hartmann

Women’s Health Expert

Burnout is a whole body response to prolonged, uncontrolled stress. It can be experienced as feelings of overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism and detachment from work, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. [1] 

Left unaddressed and unmanaged, burnout leads to anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and overall low quality of life. It is also well documented that burnout is more prevalent in women than men. [2] 

The problem I commonly see in clinical practice is that women just keep pushing. They are juggling many balls一work, household duties, children, relationships, ageing parents, the list continues. 

They’re also trying to manage their own health, often starting their day at 5 am with a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class, because they’ve been told it’s the way to a younger body. And while they persist, they don’t reap the benefits of this type of exercise一often left feeling more fatigued and with extra centimetres around their waist.

You see, while exercise is incredibly important for mood, stress management, weight, hormonal balance, as well as reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, the type of exercise you partake in is key to your success. [3-6]

Although HIIT studies have revealed favourable results in people with coronary artery disease, heart failure, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and obesity, HIIT can also exacerbate fatigue and burnout. [7,8]

How so? The higher the intensity of training, the more cortisol is released in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that in healthy levels maintains blood glucose and energy levels throughout the day. However, in the presence of prolonged physical or psychological stress, cortisol levels are elevated and can have crippling effects, including fatigue, burnout, anxiety and depression. [9-12]

If you are experiencing burnout, the best thing you can do in terms of exercise is to avoid HIIT. That doesn’t mean avoid exercise altogether though. Recent research out of the Netherlands shows that physical activity is beneficial in overcoming burnout. [13]

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggest a combination of low, moderate, and vigorous exercise improves burnout, stress response, and feelings of depression. This may look like a combination of walking, gardening, swimming, and pilates[14]

Other research reveals the combination of strength and flexibility exercises, such as that gained from pilates, improves burnout and overall sense of wellbeing.[15]

So, tune in and listen to your body. Are you burnt out?

[1] Maslach, C., et al. Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry, 2016. 15(2). PMID: 27265691

[2] Norlund, S., et al. Burnout, working conditions and gender – results from the northern Sweden MONICA Study. BMC Public Health, 2010. PMID: 20534136

[3] Chan, J.S.Y., et al. Therapeutic Benefits of Physical Activity for Mood: A Systematic Review on the Effects of Exercise Intensity, Duration, and Modality. Journal of Psychology, 2019. 153(1). PMID: 30321106

[4] Mücke, M., et al. Influence of Regular Physical Activity and Fitness on Stress Reactivity as Measured with the Trier Social Stress Test Protocol: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 2018. 48(11). PMID: 30159718

[5] Ennour-Idrissi, K., et al. Effect of physical activity on sex hormones in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Breast Cancer Research, 2015. PMID: 26541144

[6] Warburton, D.E.R., et al. Health benefits of physical activity: a systematic review of current systematic reviews. Current Opinion in Cardiology, 2017. 32(5). PMID: 28708630

[7] O’Leary, T.J., et al. Endurance capacity and neuromuscular fatigue following high- vs moderate-intensity endurance training: A randomized trial. Scandanavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sport, 2017. 27(12). PMID: 28207951

[8] Weston, K.S., et al. High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014. 48(16). PMID: 24144531

[9] Hill, E.E., et al. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, 2008. 31(7). PMID: 18787373

[10] Hannibal, K.E., et al. Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation. Physical Therapy, 2014. 94(12). PMID: 25035267

[11] McEwen, B.S., et al. Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: Understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. European Journal of Pharmacology, 2008. 583(2-3). PMID: 18282566

[12] Koutsimani, P., et al. The Relationship Between Burnout, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 2019. PMID: 30918490

[13] Naczenski, L.M., et al. Systematic review of the association between physical activity and burnout. Journal of Occupational Health, 2017. 59(6). PMID: 28993574

[14] Jonsdottir, I.H., et al. A prospective study of leisure-time physical activity and mental health in Swedish health care workers and social insurance officers. Preventative Medicine, 2010. 51(5). PMID: 20691721

[15] Bretland, R.D., et al. Reducing workplace burnout: the relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Peer Reviewed & Open Access, 2015. PMID: 25870778.

women’s  health expert

by georgia hartman

Women’s Health Expert

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top
Have no product in the cart!