May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in nine mothers in the U.S. will experience symptoms of postpartum depression. In addition to her research tied to exercise and mental health; Lewis is also conducting studies tied to high-intensity interval training (HIIT); for improving physical activity adherence.

Exercise and postpartum depression

Lewis, who researches the intersection of exercise and postpartum depression; answers questions about what postpartum depression is and how exercise could be beneficial for new mothers. Postpartum depression occurs following childbirth and can present itself differently depending on the person. Common postpartum depressive symptoms include loss of pleasure in life, bouts of crying, difficulty in day-to-day functioning, insomnia, and/or feelings of guilt, fear or anxiety.

Prof. Lewis: The postpartum phase is a very busy and stressful time of life; often, exercise is the first thing that can get crossed off the priority list. However, exercise may be exactly what the new mother needs to decrease stress; anxiety and depressive symptoms. Several studies have indicated that exercise is helpful for both preventing and treating postpartum depression.

Treatment of postpartum depression

Prof. Lewis: Exercise can used for both the prevention and treatment of postpartum depression. Postpartum women who have a history of depression are approximately three times more likely to develop postpartum depression; than women without a history. Therefore, prevention efforts are particularly important for this population. Exercise can play a primary role in prevention efforts given it can act similarly to antidepressants by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
Exercise can also play a role in treating depression once diagnosed and in many cases may combine with other therapies. Prof. They are currently conducting a randomized controlled trial examining the efficacy of a home-based exercise intervention for preventing postpartum depression among women at risk. They are enrolling low-income women during pregnancy (less than 20 weeks) and then following them through three months postpartum to determine if exercise can help prevent postpartum depression. The intervention is being delivered in both English and Spanish in order to reach a wider range of individuals.