Regular walking during pregnancy helps to lift the mood, says new UCD research


Michelle McDonagh

Walking briskly for 30 minutes or more five days a week is one of the main predictors for wellbeing and prevention of low mood during pregnancy, new research from University College Dublin has found.

Pregnancy is a period during which wellbeing often declines and there is increased anxiety and stress. There is a higher prevalence of depression, both during pregnancy and post-partum, which may be due to hormonal changes compounded by stress, physical limitations and environmental factors.

Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCD School of Medicine and consultant, Fionnuala McAuliffe, explained that wellbeing has been linked to quality of diet and lifestyle in adults, however there is a lack of data in pregnancy.

The aim of her study was to examine the relationship between wellbeing and socioeconomic status, diet and lifestyle during pregnancy and to consider the effect of intervention with low glycaemic index (GI) diet on measures of well being.

The study, which was funded by the Health Research Board under the EU FP7 framework, analysed 700 women in the first half of pregnancy.

The principal findings of the research was that the main predictors of wellbeing were third-level education and physical activity. The low GI diet intervention group had a significantly lower impact on wellbeing than education and activity.

Due to the relatively short duration of pregnancy, educational attainment may be looked at as non-modifiable at this time, the authors noted, and simply recognised as a risk factor for reduced wellbeing.

Prof McAuliffe announced her latest research findings at the HRB Centre and Health and Diet Research conference in University College Cork last week. The conference marked the first five years of the Centre’s work and set the stage for the next phase of funding.

She said: “There may not be a lot a woman can do about her education level in the short- term, but I am very excited by the finding that those who walk 30 minutes a day for five days have better health and wellbeing than those who don’t. It’s such a simple thing to do. Low mood in pregnancy is a big issue, but the women who walked as recommended were not only fitter and healthier but reported in better mood than those in the control group.”

She said only 20 per cent of women achieved the recommendations of 30 minutes of brisk walking five times a week. She said her findings had significance for both women at risk of low mood and for healthcare professionals when counselling pregnant women about the importance of healthy lifestyle in pregnancy.