Featured Research: Exercise Interventions and Postpartum Depression

Lewis-Beth-2012_opt.pngEarlier this fall, Beth Lewis, associate professor in the School of Kinesiology, was awarded a Research Project Grant (R01) by the National Institute of Mental Health. This four-year, $1.46 million grant, “Effect of Exercise and Wellness Interventions on Preventing Postpartum Depression,” is aimed at examining the efficacy of exercise and wellness/support interventions for preventing postpartum depression, which affects approximately 10-13% of women.

This is the largest single grant awarded to a School of Kinesiology faculty member while at the University of Minnesota since 2005.

“Becoming a mother is an incredible but overwhelming experience,” said Lewis. “We hope that our research can significantly help mothers by providing non-pharmacological strategies, such as exercise, that can prevent and/or treat the depressive symptoms that commonly accompany the postpartum phase.”

In general, Lewis examines how exercise influences mental health among adults. Her research group specifically focuses on conducting randomized controlled trials examining the efficacy of exercise interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders among adults. The exercise interventions are designed to help sedentary adults increase their activity level using theory-based strategies such as goal setting, self-monitoring exercise, and increasing enjoyment of exercise. Because there are many barriers associated with face-to-face interventions including time, cost, and childcare, Lewis typically delivers non-face-to-face interventions.
As an example, Lewis recently completed a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health examining the effect of telephone-based exercise and wellness interventions on preventing postpartum depression. The telephone-based exercise sessions in this study were designed to motivate the postpartum mothers to increase their exercise, while the telephone-based wellness sessions addressed issues related to health and wellness (e.g., managing stress, improving sleep). This research also examined the mechanisms (e.g., rewarding yourself, making a commitment) that play an important role for increasing exercise. For example, research indicates that social support is important for exercise promotion, especially among postpartum mothers. Social support refers to the support received from a significant other or friend that helps the individual increase their exercise. Therefore, this research study examined if social support is a mediating variable accounting for the increase in exercise as a result of the intervention. One in four adults suffer from some form of a mental disorder each year, and exercise interventions have the potential to make a significant impact on adult mental health.

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