Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Postnatal Depressive Symptoms

A Review
  • Megan Teychenne
    Address correspondence to: Megan Teychenne, PhD, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Hwy, Burwood, Victoria, 3125 Australia
    Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia
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  • Rebecca York
    Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia
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      Postnatal depression is highly prevalent in mothers. Although physical activity has been found to reduce the risk of depression in the general population, little is known regarding its link with postnatal depression. This review examined original research investigating the relationship between physical activity and sedentary behavior dose (frequency, intensity, and duration) and domain, and postnatal depressive symptoms.

      Evidence acquisition

      A systematic search for original research investigating the relationship between physical activity and sedentary behavior dose and domain, and postnatal depressive symptoms, was performed using several electronic databases in early 2012. A total of ten observational and seven intervention studies were included.

      Evidence synthesis

      Most studies (one cross-sectional, two longitudinal, and six intervention studies) found an inverse association between postpartum leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) and postnatal depressive symptoms. One longitudinal study found that occupational physical activity was positively associated with postnatal depressive symptoms. There was inconclusive evidence to suggest an optimal dose of postpartum physical activity for reducing postnatal depressive symptoms. Two longitudinal studies found an inverse association between antenatal LTPA and presence of postnatal depressive symptoms. One of two studies that investigated sedentary behavior found a positive cross-sectional association between sedentary behavior and presence of postnatal depressive symptoms.


      Although studies are limited, on balance, LTPA prior to, during, and after pregnancy may be important for reducing the risk of postnatal depression. Further research is required to determine the optimal dose and domain of physical activity for reducing postnatal depressive symptoms as well as to examine the link between sedentary behavior and postnatal depressive symptoms.
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