Perceived and measured physical activity and mental stress levels in obstetricians

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2013 Nov;171(1):44-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2013.08.020. Epub 2013 Aug 16.


Objectives: Obstetric work generates important subjective and objective mental stress and is perceived as a physically demanding activity by obstetricians. The aim of this study was to quantify physical and mental stress levels in obstetricians at work and during leisure activities to investigate their association with overall physical activity levels and professional experience.

Study design: 18 obstetricians at the maternity unit of the University of Geneva Hospitals were enrolled in a prospective observational study. Physical activity and stress levels were measured in two different activity sectors (delivery room and outpatient clinic) and outside work. Physical activity was assessed by questionnaire, visual analogue scale (VAS), and accelerometer. Mental stress levels were assessed by validated questionnaires, VAS, measurement of urine catecholamines and salivary cortisol, and night-time heart rate variability indices.

Results: Daily stress levels were higher at work compared to outside work (all, P = 0.002). Adrenalin (P = 0.002) and dopamine (P = 0.09) levels were elevated after a labour suite shift and a trend was observed for reduced heart rate variability during the night after this shift. The median average daily number of steps was 7132 (range, 5283-8649). Subjects reached a median of 32 min (range, 19-49 min) of moderate or higher intensity (≥ 1952 counts/min) daily physical activity.

Conclusions: Contrary to perception, obstetrics work is not physically demanding. It is, however, accompanied by important subjective and objective mental stress that may have a negative impact on health when combined with a lack of regular daily physical activity.

Keywords: Energy expenditure; Mental stress levels; Obstetrics; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Catecholamines / urine
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Leisure Activities
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Obstetrics*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological* / physiopathology


  • Catecholamines
  • Hydrocortisone