For women suffering postnatal depression (PND), exercise is a vital tool to enhance mental as well as physical well being. Regular exercise and improved physical fitness can change the serotonin levels (chemical linked to depression) in the brain, improving mood and feelings of well being. Other research indicates the increase in body temperature that comes with exercise can also influence the brain chemicals that help ease depression.

Still the idea of dragging yourself to an exercise class when you are already feeling tired and low in energy can seem like an impossible task for any new mum, whether suffering PND or not! But past sufferers have learnt that partaking in exercise is far more productive than sitting on the couch tired and depressed.
“The motivation does not come when I am putting on my workout gear, nor does it come driving to the gym. The motivation starts when I am in the class enjoying some of the music. The major benefit I get is when the class is over and I am left with a real sense of achievement. Knowing that whilst I have had to push myself to attend, I have done something productive and worthwhile. This is what leaves me feeling 100 times better than I would have had I stayed at home. It’s this feeling that makes exercise such a positive tool in fighting depression.”

Removing themselves from the vicious cycle of depression, women choosing to exercise are taking an active role in their recovery. Able to socialise with other women and share experiences and difficulties, is far more beneficial than remaining isolated at home. Exercise also relaxes the body and can help women cope better with the physical and emotional demands of motherhood. The high expectations many women place on themselves to be the perfect mother can eat away at their already fragile psyche. Choosing to exercise in a group with many women both having experienced or currently experiencing the same issues is an uplifting positive experience.

It is important to note, although likely to improve social support for group participants, studies have shown the lack of structure inherent in self-organised programs tends to limit the effectiveness of postnatal exercise. Professionally facilitated programs however tend to be more effective. Helping participants improve their sense of wellbeing whether or not they suffer from PND.

To be effective, fitness improvement programmes should involve at least three moderately intense 30-40 minute exercise sessions per week, for a minimum of nine weeks. Attendance is likely to improve if the program is tailored to participants’ fitness levels, is convenient, and fun. A well-designed postnatal group exercise program has the potential to improve many aspects of a mother’s emotional, social and physical well-being.

Want to know more about postnatal depression? Visit www.beyondblue.org.au

Sources: Preggi Bellies and The Bay City Strollers