Exercise could help to combat postnatal depression, research suggests

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Exercising could effectively reduce symptoms of postnatal depression, according to a new study.

Physical activity of any kind could be a preventative measure against depression among all postpartum women, and aerobic exercise should be considered as a “management option” for new mothers.

The research, from the University of Birmingham was published in the British Journal of General Practice and examined data from over 1,700 women.

Researchers from the study explained: “Given the high prevalence of postpartum depression and the potential for exercise to be a low-cost, freely available intervention, aerobic exercise should be considered as a management option for postpartum women with depressive symptoms and as a potential preventative measure more generally in postpartum women.”

In the same journal, a separate study examined how different women sought help for postnatal depression.

Data was obtained through interviews and focus groups, and discovered that women felt under pressure to be “good mothers”.

The stigma around mental health was a contributing factor for women suffering with postnatal depression, whilst the ‘fear of failure’ was another.

Co-author of the second study, Dr Judy Shakespeare said that she was ‘not surprised’ that physical activity had so many benefits on a patient’s mental and physical health.

The spokeswoman for perinatal mental health for the Royal College of GPs also said that despite attitudes towards mental health improving, there was still a “terrible stigma” around mothers with mental health problems.

“As this paper shows, many women think that if they disclose their concerns, they will be judged negatively or are frightened that social services might get involved.”

“The routine six-week postnatal check, offered to all new mothers after giving birth, is an important opportunity for GPs and new mothers to discuss issues around mental health and wellbeing – and begin to address any resulting concerns.”

Shakespeare concluded: “GPs are highly trained to take into account all factors potentially affecting a patient’s health when making a diagnosis – including lifestyle factors.”

“We will use this to develop a treatment plan based on the individual patient in front of us, in conversation with them.”

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