Pregnant couple walking outdoors

By Sandy Hemphill, Contributing Writer, BabyMed

A recent British study revealed a strong link between depression and inactivity during pregnancy and the tendency to gain excess pregnancy pounds and develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of complications for mother and child and excess pounds are difficult to shed once the baby is born.

The good news is that there is little need to dive into a strenuous exercise routine while pregnant to fend off risk. Doing something as simple as taking regular breaks from prolonged sitting can help ease depression and improve physical health during pregnancy.

Dr. Nithya Sukumar of the Warwick Medical School in England led the study of 1,263 expectant mothers to identify and assess any connections between emotional state, physical activity, and health of the pregnancy. She presented the findings of her study at the annual conference for the Society of Endocrinology held in November in Edinburgh, Scotland.

At this time, the United Kingdom medical system does not issue any guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy but it is widely understood that a sedentary lifestyle at any phase of life encourages the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and diminished mental health. The effects of sedentary habits on pregnancy have not been widely studied as of yet.

Sukumar asked each study participant to report on her level of physical activity and her sense of emotional well-being in the first trimester of pregnancy and again near the end of the second trimester. Age, body mass index (BMI), and socioeconomic status were factored into the study’s outcome but the research revealed that in spite of these other factors:

  • Women who self-reported symptoms of depression spent longer periods sitting down than women not feeling depressed.
  • Depression in the first trimester led to more episodes of prolonged sitting in the second trimester.
  • Women sitting for prolonged periods of time in the second trimester were less likely to engage in moderate or vigorous physical activity.
  • Sedentary women were more likely to gain significant amounts of excess weight between first and second trimesters than more active expectant mothers.
  • Blood glucose levels were higher at week 28 in the sedentary women; high glucose levels are an indication that gestational diabetes may be developing.

Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of birth complications for the mother and baby and so it is important we minimize this risk by reducing the time that pregnant women spend sitting down,” said Sukumar. She suggested early interventions to promote a more active lifestyle during pregnancy to improve an expectant mother’s physical and mental health while reducing the negative aspects of sedentary behaviors on her pregnancy.

Dr. Ponnusamy Saravanan, a co-lead author of the Warwick study, added: “Encouraging women to take breaks from sitting down might be an easier public health policy to implement than increasing their physical activity during pregnancy. We believe reducing the sitting time has the potential to reduce pregnant women’s risk of gestational diabetes and reduce the metabolic risk factors of their newborns.”


  1. "Sitting down for long periods when pregnant linked to weight gain and depression." AlphaGalileo. Society for Endocrinology, 2 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
  2. "Should I Exercise During My Pregnancy?" NIH MedlinePlus 3.1: 26. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
  3. Owen, Neville, et al. "Sedentary Behavior: Emerging Evidence for a New Health Risk." Mayo Clinic Proceedings 85.12 (2010): 1138-41. PMC / US National Library of Congress. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.