November 30, 2023: Postpartum depression is a common psychological affliction following childbirth and affects 17.22% of the world population. Postpartum depression can start at any time within the first year after delivery and continue for several years and is often underdiagnosed and undertreated.
A recent meta-analysis sheds light on a potential breakthrough in managing and preventing postpartum depression through a surprising ally: exercise. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, reveals that moderate-intensity exercise significantly reduces postpartum depression, emphasizing both its treatment and preventive aspects.
Postpartum depression, a prevalent and debilitating condition impacting a significant number of pregnancies, poses a challenge due to underdiagnosis. Current estimates most likely underestimate its prevalence, prompting researchers to explore innovative approaches beyond traditional treatments.
Exercise as a game-changer
The meta-analysis, encompassing 26 studies across 11 countries, showcases exercise as a potent tool in mitigating postpartum depression. Various forms of aerobic exercise, including dance, swimming, cycling, walking, running, and yoga, were examined. The results indicate that exercise, especially at moderate intensity and frequency, not only effectively treats but also prevents postpartum depression.
The study recommends a tailored exercise regimen of 3–4 times per week, lasting 35–45 minutes each session. While all forms of exercise proved beneficial, the exception was the yoga group. Despite this, the researchers acknowledge yoga’s viability and emphasize the need for personalized exercise recommendations based on individual circumstances.
Exercise Vs antidepressants
In comparing exercise to standard care, the study brings attention to the value of exercise as a complementary approach. The standard care group, receiving education and psychological support, did not include antidepressant use. The study emphasizes that exercise should not be seen as a replacement for first-line treatments, particularly in severe cases. “Medication was not included in the preventive process for PPD,” study co-author Renyi Liu, a PhD student and associate professor at the China University of Geosciences in WuhanLiu said. “In the treatment of PPD, medication usage is generally considered based on the severity of the condition and patient preference. In this study, which primarily focuses on treatment, the reported interventions almost entirely exclude the use of antidepressant medications.”
Balancing expectations in postpartum
The importance of psychotherapy and antidepressants, particularly in severe postpartum depression cases cannot be ignored. While exercise shows benefits, it is considered an adjunctive therapy rather than a standalone solution, caution experts.
Experts caution against succumbing to societal pressure for rapid postpartum physical recovery. Regardless of the chosen exercise, the emphasis is on enjoyment rather than meeting unrealistic expectations. The importance of slow progress, individual preferences, and physician support is underscored for physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
While the meta-analysis highlights exercise as a promising avenue for postpartum depression, it stresses the need for further research. Exercise, ranging from moderate-intensity aerobics to lighter activities, may offer valuable support, but it should be integrated into comprehensive treatment plans.