Does the Ability to Maintain An Exercise Routine during The Pandemic Help Support Maternal Mental Health?

Research Paper Title

Exercise routine change is associated with prenatal depression scores during the COVID-19 pandemic among pregnant women across the United States.


The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected physical and mental health worldwide. Pregnant women already exhibit an elevated risk for depression compared to the general public, a pattern expected to be exacerbated by the pandemic. Certain lifestyle factors, including moderate exercise, may help support mental health during pregnancy, but it is unclear how the pandemic may impact these associations across different locations. Here, the researchers test whether:

  • Reported exercise routine alterations during the pandemic are associated with depression scores; and
  • The likelihood of reporting pandemic-related exercise changes varies between women living in metro areas and those in non-metro areas.


This cross-sectional study used data from the COVID-19 And Reproductive Effects (CARE) study, an online survey of pregnant women in the United States. Participants were recruited April-June 2020 (n = 1,856). Linear regression analyses assessed whether reported COVID-19-related exercise change was associated with depression score as measured by the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Survey. Logistic regression analyses tested whether a participant’s Rural-Urban Continuum Code classification of “metro” was linked with higher odds of reporting exercise changes compared to a “non-metro” classification.


Women who reported exercise changes during the pandemic exhibited significantly higher depression scores compared to those reporting no changes. Moreover, individuals living in metro areas of all sizes were significantly more likely to report exercise changes compared to women living in non-metro areas.


These results suggest that the ability to maintain an exercise routine during the pandemic may help support maternal mental health. It may therefore be prudent for providers to explicitly ask patients how the pandemic has impacted their exercise routines and consider altered exercise routines a potential risk factor for depression. An effort should also be made to recommend exercises that are tailored to individual space restrictions and physical health.


Gildner, T.E., Laugier, E.J. & Thayer, Z.M. (2020) Exercise routine change is associated with prenatal depression scores during the COVID-19 pandemic among pregnant women across the United States. PLoS One. 15(12), pp.e0243188. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0243188. eCollection 2020.

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