Are mothers more physically active than women without children?

Experts note lower levels of physical activity among mothers, which could be linked with lack of time, energy, and social support or childcare services. (Envato Elements pic)

Programmes that allow new mothers to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle after childbirth are needed, according to international researchers who found that women with children tend to get insufficient exercise, compared with those without.

These are the findings of a recent study by experts who set out to determine the proportion of mothers and childless women in Denmark who do not currently comply with recommendations on physical activity by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the WHO, adults aged 18-64 should engage in moderate-intensity activity for 150-300 minutes a week, or sustained-intensity endurance activity for 75-150 minutes a week. These guidelines were not being followed by one in four adults worldwide in 2022.

For the study, based on the physical activity of women with and without children, the researchers analysed data from 27,668 females aged 16-40, from which over 20,000 candidates were factored into the study.

Data from the Danish National Health Survey 2021 was combined with data from the Danish National Birth Registry to determine the proportion of women with and without children who meet, or don’t meet, the WHO guidelines.

Published in the journal Public Health, the study suggests that mothers are at greater risk (24%) of not getting enough physical exercise than women in the same age group who have never given birth.

Among the study participants, 63.8% of mothers did not meet the WHO guidelines, compared with 51.3% of women without children. The authors pointed out that women with children tend to engage in light exercise, such as walking or cycling – activities that are not of moderate or sustained intensity.

Many mothers find it hard to determine how and what they can do with their ‘new body’ in terms of physical activity after childbirth, experts suggest. (Rawpixel pic)

While the researchers do not formally identify reasons for this lower level of physical activity among mothers, they believe it could be linked to a lack of time, fatigue or lack of energy, or even exhaustion, as well as a lack of social support and childcare services.

“Being pregnant and giving birth is a major change for the body. Many mothers find it difficult to figure out how and what they can do in terms of physical activity in their ‘new body’ after childbirth.

“Other barriers can be lack of time and sleep, which, along with breastfeeding and logistical challenges, can cause physical activity to be deprioritised,” said lead author Solvej Videbæk Bueno.

The researchers believe their findings should be used to develop targeted interventions for postpartum women everywhere, with the goal of improving their level of physical activity and, by extension, increasing their chances of maintaining good health.


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