Exercise To Keep Away Baby Blues

A recent U.S. study reports that women who exercise during pregnancy and adapt well to their changing bodies experience less depression during their pregnancies and afterward, as well. Penn State's Danielle Symon Downs headed up a study in which 230 Pennsylvania women were surveyed during and after their pregnancies in relation to their exercise habits, body image, and depression symptoms. "Our study supports the psychological benefits of exercise to improve body image and lessen depressive symptoms," said Downs in a press statement.

Earlier studies have shown a link from depressive symptoms in early pregnancy, to similar symptoms in later pregnancy, and in postpartum depression. But this study purports to prove that body image, physical activity, pregnancy, and postpartum symptoms of depression are intertwined factors. What the research team found is that women who exercised the most before they became pregnant had the best body image in their second and third trimesters and fewer symptoms of depression during the second trimester.

Strongest Determinant

Meantime, exercise psychologists at Penn State and at the University of Florida say that many pregnant women don't exercise because they believe that physical activity can harm their pregnancies. Downs, who is an assistant professor of kinesiology comments that, "Her intention to exercise is the strongest determinant of her actual exercise behavior."

Downs runs the Exercise Psychology Laboratory at Penn State and believes that pregnancy puts women at risk because of their tendency to become sedentary. According to Dr. Downs' calculations, some 60% of all pregnant women avoid physical activity. This stands in the face of logic, since most experts feel that exercising while pregnant leads to better fitness as well as a general feeling of well-being. Down feels that professionals need to educate themselves about women's attitudes regarding exercise during pregnancy, so they can help change unwarranted beliefs.

Passed Over

Many women think that exercise will cause them to miscarry or harm the baby. Some women may have cultural inhibitions about exercise during pregnancy. Pregnant women tend to be passed over as a research topic. Downs' work attempts to fill the vacuum with her work on gestational psychology and exercise.

To that end, Downs' team sent questionnaires to women at various times during their pregnancies and postpartum periods to discover how their beliefs and intentions affected their behavior. The participants answered questions relating to their personal exercise stumbling blocks, for instance: fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. While the pregnant women cited physical limitations as barriers to exercise, postpartum women tended to plead a lack of time plus exhaustion.

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