The Mental Health Benefits of Running Postpartum

This is a guest post written by Michelle Bakjac, Psychologist, Coach, Trainer

mental health benefits of running postpartum

Childbirth represents a significant transition for women with not just physical but also psychological sequelae.

In the transition to motherhood, a women’s identity shifts to that of a parent, and often our entire focus gets caught up in our child. It, therefore, seems counterintuitive to think of ourselves post-pregnancy and our needs. Often, we consider that our every waking moment needs to be focussed on our new little bundle of joy.

There is also an undeniable, unspoken social expectation that new mothers should be focused 100% on their newborn babies. Along with this expectation is the shame that taking time for yourself is somehow denying your child their needs. This could not be further from the truth. One of the many mental health benefits of running postpartum is that it can actually make you a better mother.

Let me perhaps give you a bit of context. Let’s say that you are taking your bundle of joy on a plane to meet their grandparents interstate. As the plane is taxiing to the runway, the flight attendants are in the aisles doing their pre-flight safety briefing (you know, the one we always tend to ignore). They tell you where the exits are and that there is a life jacket under your seat and how to use it. They then explain that if there is a drop in cabin pressure, the mask will drop from the ceiling. Do you remember what they ask you to do next? That’s right, they say “ensure you put your own mask on first before you assist others”.

E-book: How to Return to Running Postpartum

The Ultimate Evidence-Based Physiotherapy Guide for Running After a Baby

As a parent, we often need to recognise and come to the realisation that making our physical and psychological health a priority can result in our ability to better take care of others. Motherhood is a physically demanding job and we need to be as fit as we can to manage this new role. But often, life and let’s be honest our brain can often get in the way of changing our habitual way of thinking.

Our ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) can often get in the way and we can engage in catastrophizing, labeling, and black and white thinking. Just consider some of our mental thought barriers: “I’m too tired”, “I leak and it’s embarrassing”, “I’m too busy”. In other words, our brain often defaults to our tried and true habits, our excuses, and the status quo which feels safer. But then we always put off that self-care, expecting there will always be tomorrow.

We know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it also boosts your mood, improves your sleep, and assists you to manage depression, anxiety and stress?

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference.

Many women can experience postpartum depression. And yet research done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

So, if your brain and your self-talk is fighting against you when considering exercise – start small. Consider the aggregation of marginal gains when it comes to exercise. Even 5-10 mins each day can make a big difference to your sense of self-esteem, feeling stronger, being more in control, and your wellbeing. Remember Mum, when you put your own mask on first, you are in a better position to help those relying on you.

About the Author

Alina Kennedy

Alina Kennedy

Alina Kennedy is the founder and lead Physiotherapist behind The Runners Physio.

Alina is a physiotherapist and strength & conditioning specialist based in Adelaide, Australia. She graduated from the University of South Australia in 2011 and works as a sports physiotherapist focusing on running performance and injury rehabilitation. She’s developed training and rehab methods based on years of clinical experience and up-to-date scientific evidence. Her simple but effective approach has successfully helped thousands of runners overcome repetitive injuries and get back to running faster and healthier.

E-book: How to Return to Running Postpartum

The Ultimate Evidence-Based Physiotherapy Guide for Running After a Baby