Exercise is known to improve mental health and reduce anxiety. Researchers now recommend taking moderate aerobic exercise for the prevention and treatment of postpartum depression.
Around 50% to 75% of women may experience some form of baby blues after delivery, with symptoms such as sadness, frequent bouts of crying and anxiety. Typically, these signs will subside within the first few weeks of delivery without any treatment.
However, some women may develop a more serious, long-lasting condition called postpartum depression. The signs include severe mood swings, frequent crying, fatigue, guilt, anxiety, loss of appetite, social withdrawal, restlessness and thoughts of suicide and harming the child.
Postpartum depression affects 13 million women worldwide. The treatment depends on the type and severity of symptoms. It includes the use of antidepressants, talk therapy and psychotherapy.
In a new large-scale research, the team examined 26 studies with 2,867 participants to understand the preventive and therapeutic effects of aerobic exercise on postpartum depression.
Engaging in aerobic exercise sessions 3-4 times per week, each lasting approximately 35-45 minutes, showed significant efficacy. The exercises assessed during the study include walking, cycling, swimming, yoga and dance.
“The efficacy of aerobic exercise in preventing and treating postpartum depression is significant compared to standard care, with a greater emphasis on prevention. The optimal prescribed exercise volume for intervention comprises a frequency of 3~4 exercise sessions per week, moderate intensity (35-45 minutes),” the researchers wrote in a paper, published in the journal Plos One.
“As a new ‘prescription tool,’ exercise interventions are not only an important non-pharmacological method in treating postpartum depression but also effective in preventing this disorder,” they said.
However, the study does not recommend exercise as a substitute for first-line postpartum depression treatments, especially when the patients have severe symptoms.
“The results of our study are intriguing. While we anticipated positive outcomes associated with exercise, the remarkable degree of effectiveness, especially with moderate intensity and frequency, was surprising. This reinforces the potential role of exercise in managing and preventing postpartum depression,” study co-author Renyi Liu, from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, told Healthline.