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© 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature. Postpartum depression can have detrimental effects on both a mother’s physical and mental health and on her child’s growth and emotional development. The aim of this study is to assess the effectiveness of exercise/physical activity-based interventions in preventing and treating postpartum depressive symptoms in primiparous and multiparous women to the end of the postnatal period at 52 weeks postpartum. Electronic databases were searched for published and unpublished randomised controlled trials of exercise/physical activity-based interventions in preventing and treating depressive symptoms and increasing health-related quality of life in women from 4 to 52 weeks postpartum. The results of the studies were meta-analysed and effect sizes with confidence intervals were calculated. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment and Development and Evaluation (GRADE) system was used to determine the confidence in the effect estimates. Eighteen trials conducted across a range of countries met the inclusion criteria. Most of the exercise interventions were aerobic and coaching compared to usual care, non-intervention and active controls. Small effect sizes of exercise-based interventions in reducing depressive symptoms were observed collectively and the quality of evidence was low across the individual studies. Although exercise-based interventions could create an alternative therapeutic approach for preventing major depression in postpartum women who experience subthreshold elevated depressive symptoms, the clinical effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of exercise-based and physical activity interventions need to be better established. There is a need for further more rigorous testing of such interventions in high-quality randomised controlled trials against active control conditions before large-scale roll-out of these interventions in clinical practice is proposed.

Original publication




Journal article


Archives of Women's Mental Health

Publication Date





37 - 53