The medical science that documents the value of exercise during pregnancy is vast. Study results indicate regular exercise minimizes the musculoskeletal discomforts that come with advancing pregnancy, improves quality of sleep, minimizes pregnancy weight gain, and even shortens labor. A new study brings even happier news - that regular exercise during pregnancy improves a woman’s mood. It also gives her energy levels a boost. Additional studies indicate as many as 75% of women remain inactive during pregnancy.

This most recent study, the findings of which are published in the July 2013 online issue of the medical journal, Psychology & Health, involved 56 women who were, on average, 30 years old and at week 22.5 of their pregnancies. Each woman was inactive before the study.

Each study participant agreed to a 30-minute physical workout four times a week for four weeks. Their physical activity levels were monitored with accelerometers as their workouts varied from moderate to vigorous levels of activity.

To assess psychological well-being at the beginning of the study, each woman completed two questionnaires - the Profile of Mood States Short Form and the State Trait Anxiety Scale Trait version. Trait anxiety represents a lingering form of anxiety that lasts a long time; shorter bouts of anxiety are identified medically as states of anxiety. The psychological assessment was repeated after the four-week exercise period.

After four weeks of exercise at the recommended level, the women reported significant decreases in feelings of:

They also noted significant increases in vigor. Participants who did not maintain the prescribed level of physical activity during the study did not enjoy the benefits of the exercise program as those who did comply fully.

The research team, led by Anca Gaston and Harry Prapavessis of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, notes that although postpartum depression is widely recognized in the general population, the rate of depression during pregnancy is actually higher. Feelings of fatigue and anxiety are also more common during pregnancy than after. Psychological distress during pregnancy can negatively impact the pregnancy.

This study and others confirm the value of exercise, especially during pregnancy, but caution is advised when undertaking a new physical regimen. Do advise your healthcare team any time a new fitness program is being considered, especially if pregnant. Some activities recommended for expectant mothers include walking, swimming, cycling, and low-impact aerobics for 30 minutes or more during most days of the pregnancy.

Source: Gaston, Anca, et al. "Tired, Moody and Pregnant? Exercise May Be the Answer." Psychology & Health. 2013. Web. 16 Oct 2013.