Exercise During Pregnancy #2 - Psychological & Emotional Benefits

Exercise During Pregnancy #2 - Psychological & Emotional Benefits

By Scott Howell

Despite having few studies focused on the psychological benefits of exercise during pregnancy, many studies that do exist conclude that pregnant moms who engage in a well-structured and monitored exercise program reap both physiological and psychological benefits. Currently there is more than sufficient evidence to support “moderate” to “vigorous” exercise for the physiological benefit of both mom and baby. There is a direct link between healthy mothers and healthy infants....there’s no question. Part of the challenge in conducting studies on psychological benefits is identifying quantifiable data when attempting to measure specific psychological outcomes.

Qualitative outcomes can be difficult to substantiate, even in a controlled study.  Outcomes are often self-reported by participants and can have many acute variables that impact the report or assessment. That said, qualitative outcome measures have been assessed through standardized interview processes and include psychological variables related to quality of life, well-being, body image and pregnancy depression, as well as assessment of several commonly reported pregnancy complaints.

While attempting to measure “mood” is tricky, what researchers tend to agree on is women who do engage in some type of moderate to vigorous perinatal exercise consistently show improvement in “mood scores” post-exercise.  While there are other mood-management techniques that do not involve exercise, the consistency found in the physiological benefits of exercise during pregnancy may help perinatal moms feel confident and happy.  Knowing they are helping to create the best odds for keeping themselves and their baby happy and healthful for their lifetimes can contribute to improvements in variables related to maternal well-being and quality of life.

Furthermore, while we could find no substantiated research on how exercise during pregnancy might impact the regulation of hormone balance and their (hormones) modulation in relation to mood, it is interesting to speculate further on the topic.  What are the potential benefits for mom and baby by reducing behavioral and environmental stressors and the positive regulation of hormones and mood through the aid of exercise?  If perinatal moms regularly report they feel a positive shift in mood during and post exercise, can we assume baby receives a similar benefit?

While we wait for more conclusive studies to be done, we might do so with the knowledge of how moderate to vigorous exercise can positively impact the regulation of hormones like cortisol, glucose, ghrelin, and leptin in non-pregnant females.  For example, perinatal women that are challenged by a lack of appetite due to nausea could experience a positive increase in appetite and energy regulation through the release and modulation of hunger associated hormones. To that point, some studies document women who exercise during pregnancy have reduced pregnancy-related nausea...particularly in the 2ndand 3rdtrimesters. And on a larger scale, the potential promotion of improved glucose utilization while simultaneously increasing insulin sensitivity may promote optimal balance in HPA-axis regulation and optimal hormone balance. 

While the volume of reliable scientific studies on the psychological and emotional benefits of exercising while pregnant is scarce, it should be noted that studies do exist. The anecdotal evidence supplied by study participants and participants of exercise programs in general suggest immeasurable benefits associated with mom taking time out for herself, and for baby, during ALL stages of pregnancy and postpartum. 

Pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, and considering how an exercise program can positively impact your health and the health of your baby?

  • Start with a thorough visit with your physician
  • Schedule an interview and assessment with a qualified and educated fitness professional
  • Become confident in knowing that while pregnancy can be full of challenges and adjustments, engaging in a well-organized and monitored exercise program can help ensure a happy and healthy experience, and bill of health before, during, and after pregnancy for both mom and baby