Association Between Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Depression Among a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Pregnant Women


Paper Presentation


Depression affects approximately 20% of pregnant women. Pregnant women who experience depression are at greater risk for postpartum depression and their offspring's health may be compromised. Psychological and pharmaceutical therapy has been shown to reduce rates of depression; however, such treatments can be costly, time-intensive, and few medications have been established as unquestionably safe during pregnancy. Additional strategies that complement these therapies are needed, which may include regular engagement in physical activity. Empirical evidence indicates that physical activity is associated with reduced depression symptoms among pregnant women. However, all studies have used self-report measures, which are subject to item interpretation, recall bias, and social desirability effects. To provide an accurate understanding of the relationship between physical activity and depression among pregnant women, we examined this association while employing an objective measure of physical activity (i.e., accelerometry) among pregnant women.


A cross-sectional study design using a representative sample of noninstitutionalized U.S. civilians, selected by a complex, multistage probability design.


Data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Examination Survey were used.


One hundred and forty-one pregnant women (determined from a urine and serum blood sample) were part of the study.


These participants completed the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 to assess depression status and provided at least 4 days of 10+ hours of monitoring data (ActiGraph 7164 accelerometer).


More than 19% of the pregnant women experienced some depression and compared to their nondepressed counterparts, they were less physically active. Pregnant women who were not depressed spent significantly (p < .05) more time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than pregnant women with some depression (M = 14.49 ± 1.29 minutes/day vs. M = 8.75 ± 1.98 minutes/day, respectively). With regard to meeting physical activity guidelines (i.e., 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week), a smaller percentage of depressed pregnant women (4.79% ± 1.47) met guidelines compared to nondepressed pregnant women (20.89% ± 7.99%; p < .01). Controlling for age, race–ethnicity, marital status, smoking status, body mass index, and gestation, the odds ratio for meeting physical activity guidelines was 10.73 (95% CI: 0.88-130.68; p = .06) for nondepressed pregnant women, compared to depressed pregnant women.

Conclusion/Implications for Nursing Practice

When feasible, obstetricians and nurses should encourage pregnant women to engage in safe forms of physical activity on a regular basis.