Physical activity, burnout and quality of life in medical students: A systematic review

Clin Teach. 2022 Dec;19(6):e13525. doi: 10.1111/tct.13525. Epub 2022 Sep 2.


Background: Medical students are at risk of burnout and reduced quality of life (QoL). The risk of burnout doubles from third to sixth year of medical school, and medical students have an 8%-11% lower QoL than nonmedical students. It is imperative to prevent this, as burnout and reduced QoL is independently associated with errors in practice. This systematic review aims to examine whether physical activity/exercise is associated with burnout and/or QoL in medical students.

Methods: Articles were identified through database searches of Embase, Medline, PsycINFO, Scopus and Web of Science. Studies were included if both physical activity/exercise and burnout or QoL were measured and limited to those focussing on medical students. Risk of bias was assessed using accredited cohort and cross-sectional checklists. A narrative synthesis was conducted due to heterogeneity in the dataset.

Findings: Eighteen studies were included, comprising 11,500 medical students across 13 countries. Physical activity was negatively associated with burnout and positively associated with QoL. Furthermore, the findings were suggestive of a dose-response effect of physical activity on both burnout and QoL; higher intensities and frequencies precipitated greater improvements in outcomes.

Conclusions: This multinational review demonstrates that physical activity is associated with reduced burnout and improved QoL in medical students. It also identifies a paucity of research into the optimal intensity, frequency, volume and mode of physical activity. Further research, building on this review, is likely to inform the long overdue development of evidence-based, well-being curricula. This could involve incorporating physical activity into medical education which may improve well-being and better prepare students for the demands of medical practice.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional* / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Professional* / prevention & control
  • Burnout, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Students, Medical*