Sports in case of burnout. Do it or not? Opinions are divided: Is running healthy in the case of a burnout or is it very dangerous because it is extra exhausting? In this article we will show you the pros and cons of running with burnout. We will also show the consequences and differences in intensity of sports in burnout.

Difference in burnout

Whether running is good depends on the exhaustion of the one with a burnout. Burnout has become a collective term for people who are physically and mentally exhausted, and where the body has taken over control. The complaints vary quite a bit from person to person. Some people with burnout do not manage to get out of bed because of exhaustion. Others feel depressed and don’t get going, but feel physically reasonable.

So we see people with burnout who:

  • Suffer from fear and panic
  • Totally physically exhausted and unable to take another step
  • People who have been in the red for a long time but can still manage on their own
  • Suffer from pain: headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, imbalance etc.
  • People with deficiency and numbness in limbs
  • (the list can cover this entire page)

Moral of the story: one burnout is not another. That does not mean that one burnout is worse than another! Some people are smart enough to give in to their physical complaints sooner, preventing further relapse. Or, on the other hand, burnout is different for each person. It often manifests itself in a weak spot of the body: if you often already had a headache, the headache with burnout will get worse. The same goes for abdominal pain, neck complaints, dizziness, hyperventilation, anxiety attacks (hereditary) etc.

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Exercise or sports?

Another point that is often confused is the difference between exercise and sports. For the sake of clarity:

  • Moving= Walking, cycling, quiet swimming, gardening, etc.
  • Sports= Running, cycling, mountain biking, fitness, skating, etc.

The big difference is the intensity with which the movement is carried out.

It is already explained in the article on recovery: every effort requires recovery. The picture shows what it means when effort is started too early. You ‘train’ yourself backwards in the end. In training doctrine this is a well known phenomenon. In the end you are ‘overtrained’. Mental overtraining is called burnout.

every effort requires recovery

When did you recover from burnout?

You are recovered when all the supplies in your body are back to the supplies it had for the effort, with a little reserve to take on the next challenge.

Everyone knows this progress: You want to run, first you run 200 meters, but after years of practice you manage to run 5 km. Your body recovers, and provides a little extra for next time. This is called fitness building.

Usually you recover after 3 days. You can then start moving again. As your level of training increases, the recovery time will shorten. Being recovered feels like: having energy left over and wanting to start moving again. The annoying thing is that in case of burnout the supplies are pretty empty, and the stress, hyperventilation, panic attacks, etc. plunder those small supplies even more!

The degree of recovery in case of burnout therefore differs per person with burnout. People who are physically completely exhausted take longer to recover than people who are physically less exhausted.

When is it bad to play sports in case of burn-out

When is it bad to play sports in case of burnout?

It’s obvious after reading the above. But exhausting sports that remove all supplies from the body are highly inadvisable in case of burnout. Examples of this are:

  • Hard, tough strength training
  • Long cycle tours of hours in a row
  • A new PR on the 5 km run
  • 50 laps of hard swimming in a row.

We see it on a daily basis in the people we coach (see personal coaching). People with burnout who are used to ‘not doing half work’ or people who ‘don’t want to walk away’ or people who ‘don’t want to stand in front of a monkey when they are moving’.

But remember: Wasn’t this conviction the reason you got burned out?

 Isn’t that why you got burned out?

That’s why we see a lot of people who, once they start running, go way too fast and exhaust themselves and (if they’re not careful) cause a relapse in case of burnout.

The thought behind this is:

  • Hard work pays off
  • I’m not moving for nothing, am I?
  • This pace doesn’t pick up!
  • The whole environment runs much faster
  • I’ll make a final sprint, at least I’ll be there.

All are parallels for daily life! Exercise for health, not for performance

Is not moving an option in case of burnout?

We would also like to highlight the other side. Not moving causes extra stress, as the picture shows:

Not getting started with burnout makes sense to us. Your body screams for rest, lie down, sleep and do nothing. But an active recovery (in moderation) reduces stress complaints. Stress also hollows out the body, so in the end it is always sensible to move in doses!

How do you exercise when you’re burnout?

In our body there are 3 energy systems:

  1. Energy for about 3 days running
  2. Carbohydrates. Energy for approx. 1.5 hours running
  3. Breaks down muscles, don’t think about using.

So the safest form of sport is a form of exercise where you stay within your fat burning limits. You can tell by your breathing. When you can still talk properly while moving, but can’t sing anymore, you exercise in a safe, not stressful way.

sports burn-out - tired

Non-performance sports in case of burnout

If you use endurance sports for your recovery during a burnout, it is important to learn not to be performance oriented in the first place. Many people in a burnout are in a performance-and-continue mode. If you play sports like this, it doesn’t help to get out of the burnout. However, doing nothing does not help either. Dosed sports, interspersed with sufficient rest and relaxation does help. Put the emphasis on recovery and not on performance.

It’s good to remember that most people in a burnout have lost a lot of stamina. If you try to play sports at the level you once had, you’ll go wrong. It can be so extreme that in the beginning walking 5 or 10 minutes in a row is a real workout and from there the training time can be expanded very gradually. Building up the training duration and intensity should be proportional to the progress of your condition at that time.

Endurance sports are at the level of a calm or firm endurance training, harder sports are useless for your recovery and even counterproductive. But if you like it, you can do it after your recovery. Take sufficient rest after every workout: at least 20 hours after a quiet endurance training and at least 40 hours after a solid endurance training. On a rest day you can do light exercise activities; what is light depends on your condition at that moment.


  • Non-intensive sports
  • No explosive strength training
  • Listen to your body: If one time you don’t want it, the next time better
  • Walk in nature
  • Prevent injuries
  • Be nice to yourself.
Suitable heart rate zones for burn-out sports

Suitable heart rate zones for burnout sports

To exercise meaningfully, you need to exercise at a certain percentage of your maximum power (or heart rate). If your endurance has deteriorated, you reach that level much faster than before and you soon exercise too hard. It’s all about dosing well. The easiest way to keep an eye on that is to watch your breathing. Your breathing must be clearly elevated, but not so high that you pant or can’t talk without breathing during a sentence. When running, we recommend ‘jogging’. (see below)

For people who have ever had their maximum heart rate measured, a heart rate monitor can help (note: general estimation methods of the maximum heart rate are unreliable). You can then train between 60% and 75% of the maximum heart rate. A big disadvantage of the heart rate monitor is that you can become performance oriented and learn to trust your feelings less (instead of the heart rate monitor). And learning to trust your feelings again is an important step in your recovery process after a burnout.

Sports that help recover from a burnout

Endurance sports help best in recovering from burnout or reducing stress. Endurance sports are also called cardio sports or aerobic sports. Simply put, they are all sports in which your heart rate goes up without you immediately going into ‘a form of sprint’. These are sports such as running, cycling, swimming, cardio fitness, rowing, skating, ice skating, sporty walking, Nordic walking, the more intensive forms of dance, and so on. Many team sports also have the same effect. Though sports and pure strength sports have a lesser number of beneficial effects on the recovery from burnout.

Choose a sport you like, because then you’ll be able to maintain it more easily and you can also use it to regulate stress after your burnout. It is possible that the sport you like best does not lend itself to building up quietly; for example playing in the ambitious first team of a sports club. Then choose another (as much fun and achievable) sport during your recovery period. Another consideration is choosing an environment that is also relaxing and calming for you because it also helps you recover from burnout. For most people sports in nature is an extra calming factor.

endurance sports burn-out

Advantages of moving in case of burnout

Moving in case of burnout is more than just getting rid of the bank and using your supplies. Every burnout is good, no matter how deep you are in it.

A number of advantages of moving (outdoor) in case of burnout:

  • Hormones released during exercise provide stress reduction (especially endorphins)
  • The use of the senses makes you go ‘out of your head’ ‘to your body’. The grinder in your head stops for a moment and you can feel. (You often feel the fatigue, which makes moving feel negative. But with this fatigue you can sleep, the mental fatigue keeps you awake)
  • Circulation gets going and thus disposes of waste products.
  • Metabolism is stimulated and ensures healthy combustion
  • Fresh air provides more oxygen. This ultimately helps to remove waste products from the muscles (especially painful/stiff muscles).
  • Moving makes for positive feelings that color your day again

Sports in case of burnout: do it or not?

The question whether sports is sensible in case of burnout therefore depends on the degree of burnout, but also on the degree of training prior to burnout. If you were a trained athlete before your burnout, it is more sensible to exercise than if you have only moved from supermarket to car and vice versa in the last 10 years.

Benefits of sports in case of burnout:

  • High production of endorphins and dopamine that reduce stress
  • Increased heart rate and breathing promote rapid recovery
  • Exercise is good for the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels)
  • Sport causes ‘defragmentation’ of the mind. After sports it feels as if your upper room is empty again.
  • Sport ensures a good sleep.

In her research on running during burnout, Labor and organizational psychologist Juriena de Vries discovers the positive effect of running on burnout. It should be noted that when burnout is heavy and deep, it is better to start with a lighter form of movement, such as walking. (GGZ News)

Sport helps to recover from a burnout

When you’re in a burnout you have to deal with a lot of negative effects:

  • You experience a lot of stress, even if there are few stress factors (more) in your current life.
  • You can’t rest well anymore.
  • In general, you don’t feel well. Complete exhaustion
  • Many people with a burnout have depression.
  • Your condition has collapsed or greatly reduced.
  • In addition, your self-confidence and self-esteem

With all the above mentioned effects of burnout, you can achieve improvements by exercising in the right way. These are endurance sports such as running, which are also called cardio training or aerobic training. Moderately intensive endurance sports are usually the best.

In someone in a burnout, the stress regulation system is disturbed and there is also self-reinforcing stress. In that case you can help your body to recover through sports, there are also other activities that restore your stress regulation system. You will have to find a balance between the energy (and condition) you still have after your burnout and the intensity of the sport. If you don’t do that, your burnout can get even worse.

Sports in case of burnout: bottom line

Sport, including running, has several positive effects, both for your body and your brain. And especially in the case of recovery from burnout complaints, moderately intensive sport appears to make an important contribution. That is why sjogging (shogging in English) is an integral part of our approach.

In this blog we describe the 7 most important reasons why sports, in a dosed way, is an integral part of our guidance. Don’t be put off by some complicated terms you come across. You don’t have to remember them and they are mainly meant to give you a glimpse into the complex and interesting chemistry in your body and brain.

7 reasons to play sports in case of burnout

  1. Discharge of voltage
  2. Improving your sleep
  3. Extra production of BDNF, the ‘pokon’ for your brain
  4. Increase of various neurotransmitters
  5. Extra increase in neurotrophins, also good for your brain.
  6. Increase of ANP
  7. More self-control and self-efficacy

1 | Reducing voltage and voltage complaints

With stress, we see different physical reactions that help our body prepare for physical action such as fighting or fleeing. (More info about adrenaline) For example, with stress we see an increased heart rate, faster breathing, increased blood pressure and increased muscle tension, all of which are very functional to literally and figuratively get moving. The body thus prepares itself for extra physical activity. If you then remain seated on the couch, this activity does not fit in with your physical readiness. And if you then undertake little or no physical activities for the rest of the day, this tension can ‘linger’ in your body and even build up further.

A round of running can then do wonders: the body can lose its tension for a while by doing what it was ready for: moving. Compare it to a tensioned spring: if you let go of it, there will be movement and the tension on the spring will decrease. Exercise is therefore a perfect way to reduce that accumulated tension in your body and feel more relaxed afterwards. Exercise also releases various substances into your brain that also help to reduce stress, more about this under point3 and 4. Another effect of dosed exercise is that your mind often calms down a bit and reduces or even eliminates any worries.

building power sports burn-out

2 | Improving your sleep

Bad nights with less hours of sleep than is good for you and lower quality sleep can greatly contribute to the development of a burnout. In addition to being one of the causes, deteriorating sleep is often also a characteristic and symptom of a burnout. If you do not help to improve this sleep, it hampers the recovery of your burnout. One of the ways in which you can postively influence your sleep is by going to the gym. When we workout or exercise, our heart rate, metabolism and body temperature initially increase, and this continues for a few hours after exercise.

When our body then calms down, the heart rate, metabolism and body temperature drop to a level lower than that of people who do not exercise or exercise regularly. As a result, people who exercise regularly sleep more easily and sport also ensures a deeper sleep. And the deeper your sleep, the better the recovery; not only of your body, but also of your mind. For this positive effect of sports on your sleep, it is important when and how intensively you exercise.

3 | Additional production of BDNF

BDNF is the abbreviation for Brain Derived Neurotrofic Factor. This substance is very important for the recovery of your concentration and short term memory. In addition, BDNF also plays a supporting role in the inhibitory effect of the hyppocampus on the stress axis (also known as the HPA axis).

Now it turns out that sports stimulate the production of BDNF, which is of great importance for the recovery of your brain, which has been damaged by the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, BDNF also contributes indirectly to the ability to inhibit stress (through recovery of your hippocampus). More background information about the disastrous consequences of chronic stress on your brain and the restorative effect of BDNF can be read in the article:


4 | Increase in neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are substances that help transmit a signal from one nerve cell to another. In your brain, different neurotransmitters play a role in the communication between the many nerve cells. By exercising we see an increase in a number of neurotransmitters, namely endorphin, norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.

Below is a brief explanation of the effects of these neurotransmitters.


Endorphin is also called the fastest acting anti-stress hormone because it can stop a stress reaction within a minute.

Movement also immediately increases the levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, better known as noradrenaline, in certain parts of the brain. This substance wakes up your brain and keeps it going, as well as improving your self-confidence. In general, people with too little norepinephrine feel depressed and people with too much norepinephrine feel euphoric, tense, anxious or excited. This depends on the mood and/or other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.


Serotonin is known as the lucky substance in your brain. People with depression often lack this neurotransmitter, but it also plays an important role in learning and memory, in pain processing, libido and sleep. Exercise increases the level of serotonin, which, as indicated, is important for mood, impulse control and self-confidence. Serotonin also helps prevent stress by neutralizing the effect of cortisol, and it prepares the cellular connections in the cortex and hippocampus in your brain that are important for learning processes.

Finally, exercise also appears to increase dopamine levels. Dopmania is important for attention and concentration, and for a sense of reward. Dopamine therefore has everything to do with motivation and attention, which improves the mood and feelings of well-being and stimulates the attention system.


5 | Increase in neurotrophins

Through sports, the production of various neurotrophins, including IGF-I, VEGF and FGF-2, is further increased. During exercise, BDNF helps the brain to increase the absorption of IGF (Insulin-like Growth Factor), and activates neurons to produce the overpowering neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate. It then stimulates the production of more BDNF receptors, strengthening compounds to retain memories. IGF-1 appears to be particularly important for long-term memory.

VEGF = vascular endothelial growth factor is, among other things, of vital importance for neurogenesis in our brains, as is FGF-2, the Fibroblast Growth Factor.

Of course, you don’t have to understand all this, let alone remember. As long as the essence happens to you: sports put a lot of healing processes in your brain into action. If you want to read more about this, surf to movement for your brain.

 6 | Increase in GNP

When the heart starts beating faster – as in running – the muscle cells of the heart produce the substance atrial sodium peptide, abbreviated as ANP. This molecule penetrates the brain-blood barrier and attaches itself to receptors in the hypothalamus to modulate the activity of the HPA (stress) axis. ANP thus inhibits the state of hyper-arousal.

7 | More self-control and self-efficacy

Loss of control and direction over your own life is one of the causal factors in the occurrence of a burnout. Therefore, regaining control is of great importance for the recovery and prevention of a recurrence. The feeling of self-control can be increased when you discover at first hand that by moving you feel (again) more comfortable and that you can influence this yourself. This is closely related to the concept of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability.

Moving can make you feel more comfortable (again) and that you can influence this yourself. Exercise can help you to set goals again and to work towards them. The increase in feeling of control (mastery) and your own effectiveness expectation also gives you more self-esteem and a more positive self-image.

happy sports burn-out

Conclusion: just run like a fool?

Do you just have to run a lot, often and fast? No! Because in order to achieve the positive effects mentioned above, the duration and intensity of the sport, the frequency (how many times a week) and even the moment on the day when your sport is important. You can even achieve counterproductive effects with too much and too intensive sport. Our coaches will be happy to advise and coach you in learning to exercise in a dosed way.

Running in case of burnout

Sjogging is a way to do performance free sports and is therefore suitable if you want to exercise / exercise in case of burnout. Jogging can be enjoyed by everyone, as long as it’s not too long and stressful. Remember: you do sport for your health, not for your performance. Especially when you have burnout complaints, it’s a good idea to listen to your body and build it up. Don’t exhaust yourself, build yourself up, keep it fun, do yourself a favour.

The coaches of Meulenberg Coaching guide their participants to use sport, relaxation and recovery in the right way when recovering from burnout. Furthermore, they help participants to find out how they once got into a burnout and how they can stay out of it in the future.

Verstoorde werkrelatie werknemer

Training and coaching

Milltain provides training and coaching for private individuals and organisations. Our team consists of 35 coaches and trainers who have now helped thousands of people struggling with stress and burnouts.

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Are you stuck in life because of stress or a burnout? We developed an effective online program that is fully focused on the complete recovery from a burnout. More than 2000 people have successfully completed this training!

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Learn more: Stress and burnout coaching

Conquer burnout and stress

Reducing stress and recovering from burnout can be quite the challenge. With the help of our professional coaches, we are convinced that a full recovery is within reach. Our years of experience has taught us what stepping stones will help you reach your goal more effectively and how to make sure the changes you make will be of help to you for the rest of your life. Let’s turn your burnout or stress into your best life ever.

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