Beyond the facade of baby showers and beaming smiles lies a profound struggle faced by countless mothers. The complex and multidimensional mental health condition known as postpartum depression (PPD) significantly affects a woman’s postnatal experience.
According to a comprehensive review of 47 studies on risk factors and management of PPD in India, published by DMIMS School of Epidemiology and Public Health in 2022, the prevalence of postpartum depression is approximately 18.6 per cent. It was also found that 5 per cent of women who had no history of depression before or during pregnancy experienced PPD. In contrast, a considerably higher percentage of 65 per cent was observed among women who had experienced depression.
This invisible conflict, which is frequently buried in guilt, calls for comprehension, compassion, and practical fixes. Fortunately, researchers seem to have found a practical solution to tackle this condition.
A new study conducted by Professor Renyi Liu from the school of Physical Education and the University of Geosciences in Wuhan, China on the influence of aerobic exercise on PPD reveals that approximately 13 million women globally receive a diagnosis of PPD each year.
Despite its high prevalence, up to 90 per cent of the affected individuals do not receive adequate treatment which typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. However, psychotherapy can be costly, and antidepressants may have side effects.
Considering these challenges, researchers are exploring alternative treatment interventions. A meta-analysis involving 2,867 participants indicated that aerobic exercise is effective in reducing postpartum depression symptoms. However, it is important to consider multiple factors before implementing this method.
The study highlights that prenatal exercise has shown better results in combating PPD. Prenatal exercise specifically addresses the physical changes and challenges during pregnancy, leading to better mental health outcomes after delivery, Liu told Happiest Health. Hence, it is advisable for pregnant women to start before giving birth.
Among different types of aerobic exercises, dance has demonstrated the most favourable effects. He says, “These interventions provide social support, guidance, and tailored exercises suitable for the postpartum period, leading to improved outcomes.” Team exercises promote a sense of camaraderie and support, which can positively influence the mental well-being. One should perform the exercises three to four times a week, with each session lasting 35 to 45 minutes. “Supervised exercise ensures proper form and safety, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing the effectiveness of the exercise,” says Liu.
“There are potential risks to be aware of, such as musculoskeletal injuries, overheating, and premature labour in certain high-risk situations,” says Liu. Therefore, the study suggests consulting obstetricians and fitness trainers for a customised exercise plan. Regular monitoring, modifications to intensity and duration, and frequent communication with healthcare providers are crucial to ensure the safety of pregnant women during exercise.
Further research can delve into the underlying mechanisms through which aerobic exercise affect PPD. Investigating physiological, psychological, and neurobiological factors can provide a deeper understanding of how exercise influences mood and mental well-being. Moreover, including culturally diverse individuals can provide insights into the effectiveness of aerobic exercises on PPD across different socio-cultural contexts. Liu says, “We plan to conduct larger-scale studies involving more diverse populations and longer follow-up periods.” For future goal, Liu says he aims to explore the underlying mechanisms through which exercise exerts its effects and investigate potential mediators of the intervention.