Empowering Perinatal Wellness: Unlocking Mental Health Benefits Through Exercise

Pregnancy and childbirth often lead to the wonderful experience of raising children and bringing a new life into the world. 

However, it can be a traumatic experience for both the body and mind. 

In fact, as of December 2023, 54,822 perinatal women were accessing mental health services in England and Wales. 

This equates to around 9% of perinatal women who experienced a full-term pregnancy.

So how can exercise help women empower their perinatal journey and feel stronger both physically and emotionally throughout this stressful time?

Let’s jump in to see how exercise can help women improve perinatal wellness.

Using Exercise to Reduce Perinatal Depression

Many studies show how exercise can help people suffering from mental health issues. 

It has been proven to directly reduce stress hormone levels (cortisol) through the improvement of HPA axis function[1].

This restores the balance of leptin and ghrelin which has been shown to regulate anti-stress hormones[2].

But does this impact perinatal women? To start we need to separate prenatal and postnatal women.

Prenatal Women

With prenatal women, there are many reasons you may experience anxiety or depression.

Some of the things you may experience are (see NHS website for more advice):

  • A fear of giving birth
  • Flashbacks if you have been through childbirth before
  • Sudden panic attacks

If you are experiencing prenatal depression or anxiety please reach out to a healthcare professional.

How Can Exercise Help Prenatal Women

While the NHS figures have shown that over 9% of perinatal women access mental health services, this may not reflect the true impact of pregnancy on mental health.

That is why it is important to maintain structure and routine throughout the prenatal period.

It has been shown through over 52 studies that prenatal women who exercise for a minimum of 150 minutes per week could reduce the risk of depressive symptoms by up to 67%[3].

These exercises can be tailored to you and your pregnancy journey. You should also speak to a healthcare professional before starting your exercise regime while pregnant.

But we get it, it can be a challenge to maintain a regular exercise routine and structure throughout pregnancy while there are so many things on your mind. 

Choosing a flexible pregnancy workout app can help. Here is a quick pregnancy workout to get you started.

Some pregnancy-accessible exercises include:

  • Bodyweight lunges
  • Split squat
  • Alternate lunges
  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Squats

You can tailor these to your level of fitness and add weights where you feel necessary. But remember that you should always listen to your body.

positive mental health during pregnancy

Postnatal Women

Postnatal depression can have greater underlying causes that can stem from the trauma of childbirth. Other factors can also lead to postnatal depression such as having no support network, difficult relationships with your partner and a history of mental health problems in the prenatal stage of your pregnancy journey.

The research around postnatal depression and exercise is not as conclusive as prenatal exercise.

However, combining exercise with a social aspect has been shown to reduce the risk of symptoms of postnatal depression[4].

These results are based on a study where postnatal women participated in 150 minutes of pram walking with a social group over a 12-week period. This can help new mothers feel supported and improve the physical fitness of the participants.

Key Takeaways for Perinatal Women

While there is no one size fits all solution for perinatal women, these studies have shown that exercising throughout prenatal and postnatal phases can reduce the risks of perinatal depression.

As prenatal and postnatal mothers, the overall goal is to look after your children and your own health. 

Adding 150 minutes of exercise into your weekly routine could reduce the risks of depressive symptoms.

Also, ensuring you have a postnatal support network can help you feel supported and empowered knowing that you’re not going through mental health issues alone.

exercise during pregnancy

What the Experts Say

Our co-founder Holly Braithwaite has been through two pregnancies while running POW8R. 

During this time, she has continued to run live classes and provide valuable experience to perinatal women going through their own pregnancy journey.

When it comes to exercise and perinatal mental health, Holly had this to say:

Strong mamas grow strong babies.

Training whilst pregnant is one of the best things you can do.

Unless you have a health condition and have been advised to stop by a Doctor, if you were active before pregnancy, there is no reason to stop exercising throughout the pregnancy.

Staying active whilst pregnant has so many benefits, these benefits include:

  • Reduced sickness/nausea.
  • Reduced length of labour.
  • Reduced recovery time.
  • Reduce the risk of complications.
  • Reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Improve the way you feel about yourself.

Keeping yourself healthy and strong when you need to be the most is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby.

Always remember to listen to your body, after all, you know it better than anyone.

Working out through pregnancy is incredibly safe but it is natural for some women to worry if they are doing things correctly.

If this is you don’t stop. Seek advice from a health professional.

If exercise is new to you then stick with walking and you could include some prenatal yoga or pilates.

Most importantly enjoy the journey.

Growing a little life is so special and we are with you every step of the way”.

Overcoming Barriers to Exercising while Pregnant

Pregnancy can be a new and exciting period of your life, but it can also be daunting and have an element of uncertainty.

Even if you have been a lifelong exercise enthusiast, exercising while pregnant is a completely different experience. There are obvious physical limitations and time constraints in an otherwise extremely busy schedule. But this doesn’t need to stop you from exercising.

As with anything, starting small is a great way to build confidence and improve your motivation.

You could start with a short walk and gradually build up to the guided workouts that POW8R offers online.

The benefit of using an app that has qualified trainers, such as POW8R, can help create a structure for you and show you the correct ways to perform each exercise. 

You can even go back and follow along with Holly’s pregnancies to follow the same workout journey she went through.

As with anything, getting started is usually the biggest step to take. But the benefits of perinatal exercise are reason enough to add exercise into your schedule.

Don’t be afraid to get started.

There is always a community to help support you through your perinatal exercise journey. Once you have found something you enjoy, exercise will become a fundamental part of your routine giving you structure and support when needed.

benefits of exercise throughout pregnancy

POW8R Fitness App: A Path to Wellbeing

If you are looking for that little extra support throughout your exercise journey, POW8R is the ideal solution for you.

With four live classes each week and access to over 600 workouts, POW8R is a great place to find guided workouts to enjoy on your perinatal journey.

As well as the physical benefits we are used to seeing from our members, we have a close knit community that supports each other through Instagram and on the live workouts. It’s a great way for postnatal women to feel connected and supported throughout their journey.

Check out POW8R’s membership options here.

exercise during pregnancy to improve perinatal mental health

Reduce the Risk of Perinatal Depression Through Exercise

Perinatal depression can be a serious and debilitating issue that affects more women than you may think. It’s not something that you should be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

Through a structured exercise programme, you can reduce the risks of prenatal depression and postnatal depression.

While this won’t work for everyone, it’s a great starting point to improve your mental health and feel supported throughout your journey.

Download the POW8R app today and start your perinatal exercise journey online today.

Resources

  1. Mahindru A, Patil P, Agrawal V. Role of Physical Activity on Mental Health and Well-Being: A Review. Cureus. 2023 Jan 7;15(1):e33475. doi: 10.7759/cureus.33475. PMID: 36756008; PMCID: PMC9902068.
  2. Zarouna S, Wozniak G, Papachristou AI. Mood disorders: A potential link between ghrelin and leptin on human body? World J Exp Med. 2015 May 20;5(2):103-9. doi: 10.5493/wjem.v5.i2.103. PMID: 25992324; PMCID: PMC4436933.
  3. Davenport MH, McCurdy AP, Mottola MF, et al. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1376–1385.
  4. Armstrong K, Edwards H. The effectiveness of a pram-walking exercise programme in reducing depressive symptomatology for postnatal women. Int J Nurs Pract. 2004 Aug;10(4):177-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-172X.2004.00478.x. PMID: 15265228.

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