Context: Medical school can produce intense psychological distress in its students; however, there is a paucity of research exploring potential means of improving medical students' well-being.
Objective: To investigate the relationship between physical exercise and stress and quality of life (QOL) in a medical student population.
Methods: This nonrandomized, controlled, 12-week study used a survey research design. First- and second-year osteopathic medical students at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine were recruited to participate in 1 of 3 groups: (1) students participating in 30-minute CXWORX (Les Mills International LTD) group fitness classes; (2) students exercising alone or with up to 2 additional partners regularly (eg, running, weight lifting), henceforth called the health-enhancement group; and (3) students in a control group who did not engage in regular exercise. Participants completed the Perceived Stress Scale survey once every 4 weeks, as well as visual analog scale surveys to assess physical, mental, and emotional QOL weekly during the course of the study. Statistical significance was defined as P<.05.
Results: Sixty-nine participants met the inclusion criteria and completed the study protocol, with 25 in the fitness class group, 29 in the health-enhancement group, and 15 in the control group. Compared with baseline values, the fitness class group demonstrated decreased perceived stress (P=.038) and increased physical QOL (P=.007), mental QOL (P=.046), and emotional QOL (P=.004) after 12 weeks. Participants in the health-enhancement and control groups showed no statistically significant changes between baseline and week 12 for any of these parameters, with the exception of mental QOL, which improved in the health-enhancement group (P=.023).
Conclusion: Participation in regular group fitness classes led to a statistically significant decrease in perceived stress and an increase in physical, mental, and emotional QOL compared with exercising regularly on one's own or not engaging in regular exercise. Attending weekly group fitness classes could be a solution to improving the emotional well-being and stress level of medical students.