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Impact of prenatal exercise on both prenatal and postnatal anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Margie H Davenport1,
  2. Ashley P McCurdy1,
  3. Michelle F Mottola2,
  4. Rachel J Skow1,
  5. Victoria L Meah3,
  6. Veronica J Poitras4,
  7. Alejandra Jaramillo Garcia4,
  8. Casey E Gray5,
  9. Nick Barrowman6,
  10. Laurel Riske1,
  11. Frances Sobierajski1,
  12. Marina James1,
  13. Taniya Nagpal2,
  14. Andree-Anne Marchand7,
  15. Megan Nuspl8,
  16. Linda G Slater9,
  17. Ruben Barakat10,
  18. Kristi B Adamo11,
  19. Gregory A Davies12,
  20. Stephanie-May Ruchat13
  1. 1 Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, Physical Activity and Diabetes Laboratory, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, Alberta Diabetes Institute, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  2. 2 R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation-Exercise and Pregnancy Laboratory, School of Kinesiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Children’s Health Research Institute, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3 Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK
  4. 4 Independent Researcher, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  5. 5 Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  6. 6 Clinical Research Unit, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  7. 7 Department of Anatomy, Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada
  8. 8 Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  9. 9 John W. Scott Health Sciences Library, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  10. 10 Facultad de Ciencias de la Actividad Física y del Deporte-INEF, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
  11. 11 School of Human Kinetics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  12. 12 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  13. 13 Department of Human Kinetics, Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Margie H Davenport, Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2E1, Canada; mdavenpo{at}


Objective To examine the influence of prenatal exercise on depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Design Systematic review with random effects meta-analysis and meta-regression.

Data sources Online databases were searched up to 6 January 2017.

Study eligibility criteria Studies of all designs were included (except case studies) if they were published in English, Spanish or French and contained information on the Population (pregnant women without contraindication to exercise), Intervention (subjective or objective measures of frequency, intensity, duration, volume or type of exercise), Comparator (no exercise or different frequency, intensity, duration, volume and type of exercise) and Outcome (prenatal or postnatal depression or anxiety).

Results A total of 52 studies (n=131 406) were included. ‘Moderate’ quality evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) revealed that exercise-only interventions, but not exercise+cointerventions, reduced the severity of prenatal depressive symptoms (13 RCTs, n=1076; standardised mean difference: −0.38, 95% CI −0.51 to –0.25, I2=10%) and the odds of prenatal depression by 67% (5 RCTs, n=683; OR: 0.33, 95% CI 0.21 to 0.53, I2=0%) compared with no exercise. Prenatal exercise did not alter the odds of postpartum depression or the severity of depressive symptoms, nor anxiety or anxiety symptoms during or following pregnancy. To achieve at least a moderate effect size in the reduction of the severity of prenatal depressive symptoms, pregnant women needed to accumulate at least 644 MET-min/week of exercise (eg, 150 min of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, water aerobics, stationary cycling, resistance training).

Summary/Conclusions Prenatal exercise reduced the odds and severity of prenatal depression.

  • exercise
  • depression

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  • Contributors MHD, S-MR, MFM, GAD and KBA contributed to the conception of the study. MHD, S-MR, MFM, GAD, KBA, AJG, NB, VJP, CEG, LGS and RB contributed to the design of the study and development of the search strategy. LGS conducted the systematic search. APM, RS, VLM, LR, FS, MJ, TN, A-AM and MN completed the acquisition of data. MHD and NB performed the data analysis. All authors assisted with the interpretation. MHD and APM were the principal writers of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the drafting and revision of the final article. All authors approved the final submitted version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This project was funded by a Canadian Institute of Health Research Knowledge Synthesis Grant (140995). MHD is funded by an Advancing Women’s Heart Health Initiative New Investigator Award supported by Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (RES0033140). RS is funded by a Canadian Institutes for Health Research Doctoral Research Award (146252). A-AM is funded by a Fonds de Recherche du Québec–Santé Doctoral Research Award (34399).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.