Exercise helps with body image, depression in pregnancy

University Park, Pa. — Exercise can help expectant moms in mind as well as body. A new study suggests that women who stay active and are more positive about their changing shapes might protect themselves from depression both during and after pregnancy.

"Our study supports the psychological benefits of exercise to improve body image and lessen depressive symptoms," said lead study author Danielle Symons Downs, associate professor of kinesiology and obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State.

Downs and colleagues surveyed 230 Pennsylvania women throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period about their symptoms of depression, exercise habits and feelings about weight, appearance and other aspects of body image. Their findings appear in the August issue of the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

As expected and consistent with previous research, women who experienced depressive symptoms early in pregnancy tended to report later pregnancy and postpartum depression, the authors found.

What is new, though, are the findings about the role of body image and exercise behavior in relation to pregnancy and postpartum depressive symptoms. Women who experienced higher levels of depression symptoms also reported less satisfaction with their appearance throughout the trimesters of pregnancy.

"If someone is depressed and not very happy with how their body looks, especially with regard to the physical changes that occur during pregnancy, it can influence depression later on," Downs said.

Women who reported more depressive symptoms during the first trimester tended to engage in less exercise behavior in early pregnancy. In addition, women who exercised more prior to their pregnancy had greater body satisfaction during the second and third trimesters and less depressive symptoms in the second trimester, which suggests that avid pre-pregnancy exercise might protect women from negative depressive symptoms and body dissatisfaction during mid- to late pregnancy, Downs said.

Annals of Behavioral Medicine is the official peer-reviewed publication of The Society of Behavioral Medicine. The Society of Behavioral Medicine at http://www.springer.com/public+health/journal/12160.

Courtesy of Health Behavior News Service

Last Updated April 05, 2010