Effect of supervised group exercise on psychological well-being among pregnant women with or at high risk of depression (the EWE Study): A randomized controlled trial

Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2020 Aug 30. doi: 10.1111/aogs.13982. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Introduction: Depression is expected to be the leading cause of disability worldwide by 2030. The prevalence is increasing and is two-fold higher in women than in men, women being at particularly high risk during hormonal transition phases such as pregnancy and the postpartum period. The objective for this trial was to assess the effect of supervised group exercise on psychological well-being and symptoms of depression among pregnant women with or at high risk of depression.

Material and methods: This study was undertaken at the Department of Obstetrics, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Denmark, from August 2016 to September 2018. Pregnant women with a current or previous history of depression and/or anxiety requiring treatment within the last 10 years, or use of antidepressants 3 months before or during pregnancy, were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of supervised group exercise from 17 to 22 weeks of gestation twice weekly, or to a control group. The primary outcome was self-reported psychological well-being at 29-34 weeks of gestation, measured by the five-item World Health Organization Well-being Index (WHO-5). Secondary outcomes included delivery outcomes and psychological well-being (WHO-5) 8 weeks postpartum.

Results: The intention-to-treat analysis showed no significant effect on psychological well-being on the primary outcome. Mean WHO-5 score in the intervention group was 2.0 (95% CI -1.3 to 5.2, P = .2) higher than in the control group. Per protocol analysis of women who attended ≥75% of the exercise sessions showed a statistically significant higher mean WHO-5 score relative to the control group at gestational weeks 29-34. Eight weeks postpartum the intervention group reported higher psychological well-being than the control group, mean difference in WHO-5 score of 5.5 (95% CI 1.0-10.1, P = .04).

Conclusions: Supervised group exercise did not improve psychological well-being for women with or at high risk of depression at 29-34 weeks of gestation. Eight weeks postpartum the intervention group reported significantly higher psychological well-being than the control group. Based on our results, supervised exercise in groups is a safe complementary course of treatment alongside the existing antenatal care.

Keywords: exercise; high-risk pregnancy; postpartum depression; psychological well-being; women’s health issues.