Utility of an outdoor group exercise program for improving postpartum mental health
Keywords:Physical Activity, Mothers, COVID-19, Self-Efficacy, Anxiety, Depression
Background: Rates of anxiety in postpartum women are higher than those in women from the general population. Physical activity is known to be an effective therapy for treating anxiety and depression and may be beneficial for new moms. Purpose: We determined the effect of an 8-week outdoor group exercise intervention on postpartum mental health, exercise self-efficacy, and exercise motivation. Methods: In this non-randomized study, 19 women less than 9 months postpartum participated in a bi-weekly outdoor group exercise program for 8 weeks. The group exercise intervention was a 45-minute group fitness class, TONETM, created by Les Mills International. Pre and post intervention, participants completed an online questionnaire to evaluate depression, trait anxiety, perceived stress, psychological needs, behavioural regulation, and exercise self-efficacy. Women also reported state anxiety before and after each exercise class. Results: Our 8-week bi-weekly exercise program for new mothers significantly reduced state anxiety pre-post each exercise class, as well as pre-post 8-week intervention. There were also non-significant improvements in depression, perceived stress and trait anxiety. In addition, we found a significant improvement in meeting basic psychological needs (competence), and a significant improvement in autonomous regulation (intrinsic motivation). There was no significant increase in exercise self-efficacy. Conclusion: A group exercise intervention was effective in improving postpartum mental health, but did not change exercise self-efficacy. To maximize physical activity benefits in new mothers, we suggest the inclusion of behavioral change support to further enhance the likelihood of adherence and self-efficacy for independent physical activity engagement.
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