Walking may lessen the signs of postpartum depression, according to a study.

September 4, 2022

According to a study review published in the Journal of Women's Health, even only 15 minutes of brisk walking per day could help reduce some symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD). Researchers discovered that walking resulted in clinically significant reductions in depression symptoms. Even while 15 minutes was sufficient to produce results, more walking was generally preferable, particularly between 90 and 120 minutes per week of moderate effort.

About the Study

Five studies that examined PPD and the effects of walking specifically—as opposed to general cardiovascular exercise—had been published between 2000 and July 2021. Marc Mitchell, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology at Western University in Ontario, who is also the study's co-author, notes that walking is beneficial because it is relatively accessible to most people and can be done while holding a newborn. The studies involved 242 participants, with an average age of 28, and all had been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate depression following pregnancy and labor. He continues by saying that it is not even necessary to do it every day, only regularly.

"If you can get out three or four times a week for half an hour or even 15 minutes with your baby in a stroller, our findings show it could make a really big difference in how you feel," Dr. Mitchell says.

Mitchell adds that it can also have long-term impacts. Even three months after participants' walking regimens were ended, the researchers discovered that symptom alleviation persisted. The benefits of walking during the postpartum period go beyond the potential reduction of PPD symptoms. For instance, a study published in the journal Gait & Posture in 2020 found that walking significantly improved balance, which is often a problem during pregnancy and persists postpartum, the researchers noted. In that trial, even treadmill walking reduced the chance of falling and enhanced gait in general.

Challenges of Postpartum Depression

The fear, grief, and exhaustion experienced in the initial days following the birth of a baby are not the only symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PPD symptoms can include sobbing more frequently than normal, feeling angry, withdrawing from loved ones, and feeling numb or disconnected from your infant. The CDC estimates that 1 in 8 women suffer from PPD. Along with feeling guilty for not being a better mother or doubting their capacity to care for the child, many with PPD frequently report worrying that they will damage the kid.

According to Dr. Mitchell, there is still a big need for more PPD treatment methods because many people still have trouble getting access to mental health care. Walking does not substitute treatment, but Dr. Mitchell believes it can help control symptoms while navigating more comprehensive care. He adds that individuals may experience social stigma, lack access owing to racial inequities in treatment availability, and possibly extended wait times for care.

Every Step Counts

According to Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., professor of physical activity, lifestyle, and population health at the University of Sydney and Senior Advisor to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, you don't necessarily need structured workouts if you can incorporate physical activity into your day. Recent activity guidelines from the World Health Organization, which included people who are pregnant and postpartum, recommend that everyone participate in 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity each week.

Dr. Stamatakis points out that any movement can contribute to that objective. Running errands that require a lot of walking, lifting, and stretching, for example, or climbing stairs to get from one floor of the house to another all contribute toward activity goals.

"Simply put, all movement counts, and people need to understand the importance of being active for better health," says Dr. Stamatakis. "The message here isn't to feel stressed over getting a specific amount, it's just to move more, and more often."

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