Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Community Perceptions of an Exercise Program Designed for New Mothers

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Community Perceptions of an Exercise Program Designed for New Mothers

Article excerpt


Five hundred mothers of children under five years participated in a survey to gain perceptions of a community pram walking program designed to promote mental health. Telephone survey (n=450) and focus group (n=50) methods were used. Ninety-two percent of telephone survey respondents (n=416) believed that physical activity could increase mental well-being and 87% (n=390) felt that it could reduce the effects of postnatal depression [PND]. Interestingly, approximately 50% (n=25) of focus group participants felt that mothers experiencing PND would not want to join an exercise group set up for promoting mental well-being and 80% (n-40) stated that marketing messages should not mention mental health in order to avoid labelling or stigmatization. This study has revealed positive attitudes toward the potential of physical activity to improve mental health. However, for promotional purposes, terms such as well-being or reduced stress may be less stigmatizing than mental health.


Australian researchers reported that women are not participating in levels of physical activity sufficient to gain physical and mental health benefits (Australian Sports Commission, 1999; Commonwealth Department of the Arts, Sport, Environment and the Territories, 1992; Wearing, 1989). In addition, compared to men, women more commonly report mental health problems such as depression and anxiety (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996; Bishop, 1999; Cox, 1986; Gotlib, Whiffen, Wallace & Mount, 1991; May, 1995). Paradoxically, lack of active leisure is one risk factor for increased anxiety, stress and depression in women (Bialeschki, 1994; Brown, Mishra, Lee & Bauman, 2000).

One of the more commonly occurring mental health conditions in new mothers is that of postnatal depression [PND]. This medically recognized condition varies in severity. Up to 80% of new mothers in Australia may experience mild transient depression or the "blues" for a few days or weeks after the birth. However, approximately 20% of mothers may experience depression of moderate severity lasting several weeks to a year after childbirth (Cox, 1989; McGill, Burrows, Holland, Langer & Sweet, 1995). In Australia it has been recognized that postnatal depression may be ameliorated by the promotion of physical, emotional and social support (New South Wales Women's Consultative Committee [NSWWCC], 1994).

Physical activity has been recommended as a preventive measure in the area of general mental health (Biddle, 1995; Brown, 1990; Glenister, 1996; Scully Kremer, Meade, Graham & Dudgeon, 1998; Taylor, Sallis & Needle, 1985). Researchers investigating women's involvement in physical activity have linked it with improvements in anxiety, stress, depression, self esteem, body image and general psychological functioning (Currie & Develin, 2000; Kolytn & Schultes, 1987; Palmer, 1995; Sampselle, Seng, Yeo, & Oakley, 1999; South-Paul, Rajagopal & Tenholder, 1992). Based on this positive relationship, the Strollers[c] pram walking program was originally developed with the aim of promoting the mental well-being of the new mothers and decreasing the risk of PND.

Strollers[c] is a form of physical activity designed for mothers currently caring for a baby who still wish to engage in some sort of outdoor exercise. In Australia, a pram is synonymous with a stroller, pusher or buggy used by a carer to transport the baby. Mothers participating in Strollers[c] venture out of the house and push their babies in prams throughout the local area. The philosophy behind the program includes raising awareness of the fact that walking with a baby constitutes a valid form of exercise. The prime objective is to encourage women to meet other women and walk together for an hour or so, led by either a qualified fitness instructor, a community nurse, or recreation officer. On a more informal basis, mothers are also encouraged to pram walk by themselves or in friendship groups with their babies (Currie & Develin, 1999;2001). …

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