A 12-week app-based exercise program reduced depressive symptoms in health care professionals, but adherence to the program declined over time, according to study results published in JAMA Psychiatry.

To evaluate whether this app-based exercise intervention could improve depressive symptoms, burnout, and absenteeism, researchers conducted the COPE trial (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT05271006).

The researchers randomly assigned 288 health care workers to the intervention arm (n=142) or a wait list control arm (n=146). The participants’ mean age was 41.0 years, and 85.4% were women.

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Participants in the intervention arm were asked to complete four 20-minute exercise sessions each week, using a selection of yoga, barre, running, and body weight interval training apps. Participants in the wait list control arm received the apps at the end of the trial.

Participants in the intervention arm had significant reductions in depressive symptoms by week 4, when compared to participants in the control arm (effect size [ES], −0.19; 95% CI, −0.37 to 0.002). This reduction progressed throughout the trial, with the largest reduction in depressive symptoms seen at week 12 (ES, −0.41; 95% CI, −0.69 to −0.13).

The researchers assessed burnout by looking at 3 facets of the condition: cynicism, emotional exhaustion, and professional efficacy. By week 12, treatment effects favored the intervention arm for cynicism (ES, −0.33; 95% CI, −0.53 to −0.13) and emotional exhaustion (ES, −0.39; 95% CI, −0.64 to −0.14), but there was no significant difference between the arms for professional efficacy.

Participants in the intervention group also reported fewer sick days (mean [SD], 0.86 [1.05]; median, 0 [range, 0-4]) than participants in the control group (mean [SD], 1.26 [1.32]; median, 1 [range, 0-5]).

Adherence to the exercise program declined over time. In the first week, 54.9% of participants in the intervention arm completed at least 80 minutes of app-based exercise. However, by week 12, this number had decreased to 23.2%.

“Although exercise was able to reduce depressive symptoms among HCWs [health care workers], adherence was low toward the end of the trial,” the researchers concluded. “Scaled-up effectiveness trials are needed whereby all HCWs from an organization are provided longer opportunities to access the suite of apps to determine interest, uptake, adherence, and mental, physical, and economic effects.”


Boucher VG, Haight BL, Hives BA, et al. Effects of 12 weeks of at-home, application-based exercise on health care workers’ depressive symptoms, burnout, and absenteeism: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 9, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.2706

This article originally appeared on Oncology Nurse Advisor