The impact of exercise on mental health has been an extensively researched and documented topic. It has been proven that exercise can positively influence mental health. The psychological benefits of exercise include reduced feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, while conversely producing increases in self-efficacy and mood.

In fact, the anti-depressant effect of exercise has been shown to have the same significance as psychotherapeutic interventions!

Historically, there was debate on whether exercise was a safe activity for pregnant women, however, the benefits of regular exercise for pregnant women are now clearly documented. If exercise is deemed safe for a pregnant woman by a doctor, exercise should be continued through the prenatal period, however it is important that exercise is modified to suit the individual and her stage of pregnancy.

A positive relationship between exercise and mental health in the general population has been established, as are the physical benefits of exercise during pregnancy.

Worldwide, a large proportion of women become pregnant at least once in their lives. As a mother progresses through her prenatal period, a combination of physical, psychological, social and emotional changes take place. During this time, susceptibility to mental health conditions increases dramatically, in fact, up to one third of women experience an increase in stress, anxiety or depression.

For these reasons, we are going to discuss whether exercising during pregnancy has the power to impact a mother’s mental health.

Can exercising during pregnancy positively impact mental health?

The definite answer is YES. There is a large amount of evidence which illustrates a beneficial relationship between regular exercise and improved mental health during pregnancy. In some cases, exercise has the power to decrease the severity of mental illness in as little as four weeks.

 

Why is this important? Can a Mothers mental health, impact her baby?

During the prenatal period, poor mental well-being of expectant mothers has the potential to lead to obstetric complications, increased high-risk behaviours and decreased attendance for prenatal check-ups.

Additionally, ongoing mental health issues have the potential to affect mother/infant relationships, as well as the normal development of the child.

In some cases, a mother’s poor mental health has shown to affect a child through their later stages of development, and may be related to childhood developmental delays and behavioural problems.

What about Prescription Medication?

Pharmaceutical treatment is available to treat mental illness, however, during pregnancy challenges are presented as the foetus is an indirect recipient of its mother’s treatment. For example, antidepressants are rarely prescribed by doctors throughout pregnancy due to the potential for adverse effects on the fetus. Therefore, safe and accessible alternatives are needed.

Benefits of exercising during pregnancy for better mental health:

  • Self-confidence: Many women gain a sense of accomplishment by seeing and feeling physical improvements to their body. Maternal body weight has shown to be a predictor of psychological wellbeing after giving birth. Exercise, when implemented correctly can be a determinant factor for weight loss and often once a woman begins to see change in her body shape, her levels of self-confidence and self-efficacy for weight loss improve greatly.
  • Social interaction: Exercise can promote creating or increasing social interaction for mothers. Social support can enhance maternal parental self-efficacy, whilst lowering depressive symptoms and stress, and increasing mood!
  • Cost-effective: It is CHEAP, effective and very safe to implement. Simple as that.

Did you know?

  • Statistics show the prevalence of depression, during pregnancy is up to 12%. In line with this, the Australian healthcare system attributes an estimated $79 million annually for costs associated with prenatal depression.
  • Unfortunately, despite evidence promoting the positive impacts of exercise, women are often less compliant in reaching recommended physical activity levels throughout the prenatal period than prior to pregnancy.
  • For those living with mental illness, the benefits of regular exercise on mental health have been found to be more pronounced than for those who do not regularly exercise.

So, what does this all mean?

In short, it has been found that exercise is one of the best things an expectant mother can do while pregnant, for her wellbeing, and for her foetus. The severity of mental illness has shown to decrease in as little as four weeks, however, it is vital that exercise is performed safely.

When pregnant be sure to discuss any exercise plans with your GP and reach out to an exercise professional.

I’m pregnant, who can help me?

Exercise Physiologists are skilled health professionals who specialise in using exercise as medicine. Among their many areas of expertise are chronic disease management/prevention, cardiovascular, neurological and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, pregnancy and mental health. 

What to do now?

If you, or a friend or family member are concerned that you may be suffering from a mental health condition, give us a call at Generation Physio & Allied Health, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.


Article Written By Jasmine (Jas) Saunders

Exercise Physiologist – Sunshine Coast

Jas combined her passion for health and fitness with her love for working with people by completing a Bachelor of Exercise Science and Master of Exercise Physiology degree at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria. Throughout her studies, Jas has a developed a special interest in cardiovascular health, mental illness and oncology.

Jas has gained experience working with a wide variety of individuals, from high risk patients with minimal exercise experience to elite level athletes. Following her completion of study, Jas worked her third season as a full-time government firefighter in Horsham, Victoria and travelled overseas for three months before moving to the Sunshine Coast.


References:

  • Arizabaleta M, Buitrago O, De Plata A, et al. Aerobic exercise during pregnancy improves health-related quality of life: a randomised trial. J of Physiotherapy 2010; 56(4), 253-258. • Bowen A, Muhajarine N. Antenatal depression. Can Nurse 2006; 102(9):27–30.
  • Broberg L, Backhausen M, Damm P, Bech P, Tabor A, Hegaard HK. Effect of supervised exercise in groups on psychological well-being among pregnant women at risk of depression (the EWE Study): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials 2017; 18(1), 210.
  • Ding X, Zhang F, Tao B, et al. Maternal anxiety during pregnancy and adverse birth outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. J affect disord 2014; 159,103-110.
  • Faulkner GE, Taylor AH. Exercise, health and mental health: Emerging relationships. Taylor & Francis 2005.
  • Grant KA, McMahon C, Austin MP. Maternal anxiety during the transition to parenthood: a prospective study. J Affect Disord 2008; 108, 101–111.
  • Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, et al. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas 2017;106, 48-56
  • Robledo-Colonia AF, Sandoval-Restrepo N, Mosquera-Valderrama YF et al. Aerobic exercise training during pregnancy reduces depressive symptoms in nulliparous women: a randomised trial. Journal of physiotherapy, 2012; 58(1): 9-15.

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