The effectiveness of exercise for the prevention and treatment of antenatal depression: systematic review with meta-analysis

BJOG. 2015 Jan;122(1):57-62. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.12909. Epub 2014 Jun 17.


Background: Antenatal depression can have harmful consequences for the mother and fetus. Exercise may be a useful intervention to prevent and treat antenatal depression.

Objectives: This systematic review aims to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude that exercise is an effective intervention for preventing and treating antenatal depression.

Search strategy: Searches using electronic databases from MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, EMBASE, AMED and PsycINFO were performed.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCT) that compared any type of exercise intervention with any comparator in pregnant women were eligible for inclusion.

Data collection and analysis: Meta-analysis was performed calculating standardised mean differences (SMD).

Main results: Six trials (seven comparisons) were eligible for inclusion. Meta-analysis showed a significant reduction in depression scores (SMD -0.46, 95% CI -0.87 to -0.05, P = 0.03, I(2) = 68%) for exercise interventions relative to comparator groups. The test for subgroup differences in women who were non-depressed (one trial) (SMD -0.74, 95%CI -1.22 to -0.27, P = 0.002) and depressed (five trials) (SMD -0.41, 95% CI -0.88 to 0.07, P = 0.09) at baseline was not significant (P = 0.32). The test for subgroup differences between aerobic (one trial) and non-aerobic exercise (five trials) was also nonsignificant (P = 0.32).

Authors' conclusions: We found some evidence that exercise may be effective in treating depression during pregnancy but this conclusion is based on a small number of low-moderate quality trials with significant heterogeneity and wide confidence intervals.

Keywords: Antenatal; depression; exercise; meta-analysis; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Depression / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / prevention & control*
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy Complications / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome