Exercise and yoga during pregnancy and their impact on depression: a systematic literature review

Publication Name

Archives of Women's Mental Health


It is well established that exercise can improve depressive symptoms in the general population; however, it is not clear if these benefits are also seen in pregnancy. This review aimed to synthesize the evidence that examines whether exercise during pregnancy impacts depressive and associated symptoms (e.g. anxiety) during the perinatal period. The review was conducted in accordance with PRISMA guidelines and reporting criteria; literature was searched using PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science database engines. Clinical trials published in English evaluating the effects of a defined exercise protocol during pregnancy on depressive and/or anxiety symptoms during the perinatal period were included. Studies without a control group were excluded. Risk of bias was conducted by Cochrane assessment to appraise the quality of the included studies. Twenty-seven articles, between 1994 and 2019, were included. Of these, only 5 specifically recruited women with depression (n = 334), which all assessed a yoga-based intervention; 4 of these studies showed a statistically significant improvement in depressive and/or anxiety symptoms in the intervention group compared to baseline; however, 2 of these studies also showed an improvement in the control group. The remaining 22 studies used various exercise interventions in pregnant women (n = 4808) with 20 studies reporting that exercise during pregnancy has the ability to improve depressive and/or anxiety measures in the perinatal period compared to either baseline or control. The evidence suggests that exercise of various types in pregnancy can reduce depressive and/or anxiety symptoms in the perinatal period in otherwise healthy women. Specifically in women with antenatal depression, the incorporation of yoga in pregnancy can improve depressive/anxiety symptoms in the perinatal period; however, this is based on a small number of studies, and it is not clear whether this is superior to non-exercise controls. Further studies are needed to determine the potential therapeutic effects of exercise of various types during pregnancy on symptoms of antenatal depression.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access

Funding Sponsor

Australian Rotary Health



Link to publisher version (DOI)