The Benefits of Exercise on Post-Natal Depression

What is Post-Natal Depression and who suffers from it?

Adjusting to life as a mother is quite confronting, in fact for many women, having a baby is the most significant life changing event they will ever experience. As a result, it is common for women to experience increased emotions or feelings of being overwhelmed during the weeks following child birth. When this emotional distress persists it can disable women to the point of reaching clinical depression. When this process occurs within the first month after child birth it is termed Post-natal depression (PND). The post and antenatal depression association (PADA) suggest that one in seven women suffer from post-natal depression, however suggest that this  number is probably higher as this only takes into consideration the women who sought help.

Warning signs of Post-natal depression?

The typical signs of post-natal depression are quite broad; they include mood swings, inability to concentrate, sleep problems, extreme and unending fatigue, low self-esteem and feelings of sadness, helplessness and becoming overwhelmed. Further to this PADA suggest these feelings are heightened by un-planned pregnancies, where mothers are often forced to face relational and financial complications they did not anticipate.

Evidence for Exercise

A 2009 Danish study found that women who engaged in vigorous physical activity during pregnancy had a 19% lower risk of requiring anti-depressants than women who were not physically active. Furthermore, this study showed that women who had never previously exercised before pregnancy stood to gain the most noticeable improvements in mood. Another study out of the University of Science and Technology in Norway found a 22% reduction in depressive symptoms in the two month period following birth in women exercising compared to those not exercising.

Effects of Exercise

Now that we understand the basics of PND, the prevalence of PND and the symptoms associated with PND we can better understand the role of exercise and the mechanisms by which it improves symptoms of those suffering PND. Exercise in these populations has been shown to increase positive endorphins, most notably serotonin back to levels associated with improved moods. In effect, exercise plays the role of anti-depressants, that being primarily to restore brain chemistry responsible for good mental health. Other research has suggested in addition to this, that the elevation in body temperature that occurs with exercise also positively influences brain chemistry in such a way to reduce depressive symptoms.

Modality of Exercise

The evidence has shown that for exercise to elicit the greatest improvements in mood, programs should involve at least three moderately intense 30-45 minute exercise sessions per week. These sessions should include both resistance and aerobic components. The benefits of including resistance exercise are multi-factorial, most notably due to the fact that it is effective in improving mental well-being, but in addition to this it plays a vital role in restoring many of the musculo-skeletal and postural weaknesses that may have arisen throughout the pregnancy process.In conclusion, contrary to popular belief, exercise shortly after child-birth is not dangerous, but rather beneficial in reducing the symptoms associated with PND.

Appropriate exercise serves to not only improve mental health, but also address other physical imbalances that can develop throughout pregnancy. So if you are reading this article following childbirth and are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, do yourself a favor get out and start an exercise program. IF you need help do not be afraid to contact your nearest Optimum studio.

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