Walking May Reduce Postpartum Depression Symptoms, Study Says

Woman walking with baby

Key Takeaways

  • Even 15 minutes of brisk walking daily may help alleviate symptoms of postpartum depression for some women, a new study suggests.
  • Although symptoms may improve, researchers emphasize exercise is not a cure-all, but a complement to more comprehensive treatment.
  • More walking is better than less, but it's also helpful to keep in mind that all movement counts toward a larger goal.

As little as 15 minutes of brisk walking every day could help alleviate some symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD), according to a research review in the Journal of Women's Health.

They found that walking led to clinically significant decreases in depression symptoms. Although 15 minutes was enough to show effects, more walking tended to be better, especially within the 90 to 120 minutes range weekly at moderate intensity.

About the Study

Researchers looked at five studies published between 2000 and July 2021 that focused on PPD and the effects of walking specifically—as opposed to general aerobic exercise. The studies included 242 participants, with an average age of 28, and all had been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate depression following pregnancy and labor.

Marc Mitchell, PhD

If you can get out three or four times a week for half an hour or even 15 minutes with your baby in a stroller, our findings show it could make a really big difference in how you feel.

— Marc Mitchell, PhD

Walking is helpful because it is fairly accessible to most people, and can be done with a newborn, says the study's co-author, Marc Mitchell, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology at Western University in Ontario. He adds that it does not even need to be done daily, just on a regular basis.

"If you can get out three or four times a week for half an hour or even 15 minutes with your baby in a stroller, our findings show it could make a really big difference in how you feel," Dr. Mitchell says.

Plus, it can offer long-term effects, Mitchell notes. The researchers found that symptom improvement remained even 3 months after participants stopped walking programs. Beyond the potential improvement of PPD symptoms, previous research has highlighted other benefits for walking during the postpartum period.

For example, a 2020 study in the journal Gait & Posture found that walking brought considerable improvements to balance, which tends to be an issue in pregnancy that continues postpartum, those researchers noted. In that study, even walking on a treadmill helped reduce the risk of falls and improve gait overall.

Challenges of Postpartum Depression

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PPD is more than just "baby blues," which describes the worry, sadness, and tiredness in the first few days after having a baby. PPD symptoms tend to be more intense and last longer, and the CDC estimates about 1 in 8 women experience PPD.

Symptoms can include crying more often than usual, feeling angry, withdrawing from loved ones, and feeling numb or disconnected from your baby. People with PPD also report worrying that they will hurt the baby and feeling guilty about not being a good mom or doubting their ability to care for the baby.

The need to find more strategies for addressing PPD is important, says Dr. Mitchell, because many people still encounter barriers to accessing mental health treatment. He notes that they may face social stigma, lack access due to racial disparities in treatment availability, and might encounter long wait times for care, especially during COVID surges.

Although walking does not replace treatment, Dr. Mitchell says it can help manage symptoms in the midst of navigating more comprehensive care.

Every Step Counts

You don't necessarily need structured workouts if you can incorporate physical activity into your day, according to Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D. professor of physical activity, lifestyle, and population health at the University of Sydney and Senior Advisor to the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD

The message here isn't to feel stressed over getting a specific amount, it's just to move more, and more often.

— Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD

Recent activity guidelines from the World Health Organization, which included people who are pregnant and postpartum, recommend that everyone participate in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity.

However, Dr. Stamatakis notes that all movement can count toward that goal. For instance, climbing stairs to get from one floor of the house to the other, or running errands that involve plenty of walking, lifting, and stretching all count toward movement goals.

"Simply put, all movement counts, and people need to understand the importance of being active for better health," says Dr. Stamatakis. "The message here isn't to feel stressed over getting a specific amount, it's just to move more, and more often."

What This Means For You

Establishing a regular postpartum walking routine may help alleviate symptoms of depression, as well as improve your balance and gait. Talk to a healthcare provider to determine when it is safe for you to begin a walking regimen.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Veronica Pentland et al. Does walking reduce postpartum depressive symptoms? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsJournal of Women's Health (2021). doi:10.1089/jwh.2021.0296

  2. Rothwell SA, Eckland CB, Campbell N, Connolly CP, Catena RD. An analysis of postpartum walking balance and the correlations to anthropometryGait & Posture. 2020;76:270-276. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2019.12.017

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression among women.

  4. Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, et al. World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviourBr J Sports Med. 2020;54(24):1451-1462. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-102955

By Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.