Healthy lifestyle can prevent depression
New research shows that healthy lifestyle habits like frequent social connection, regular physical activity, sufficient sleep, moderate alcohol consumption, healthy diet, zero smoking, and minimal sedentary behavior reduce the risk of depression.
The cause of depression remains a dilemma, but we know that lifestyle factors play a significant role alongside biological factors.
To better understand how these factors influence the onset of depression, researchers examined the genetics, lifestyle, and health information of 290,000 people, with 13,000 of them having depression.
They were able to identify the relationship between those healthy lifestyle factors and a lowered risk of depression.
According to the research, having sufficient sleep (7-9 hours) reduced the risk of depression the most, by a staggering 22%.
Frequent social connection, which I've always said is key against mental health issues, reduced depression risk by 18%. It was also the most effective factor against recurrent depressive disorders.
Depressed participants who consumed alcohol in moderation reduced their risk of depression by 11%, a healthy diet by 6%, and indulging in regular physical activity by 14%.
Others who had a low-to-moderate sedentary behavior and never smoked decreased their risk of depression by 13% and 20% respectively.
Participants were then grouped into three different categories based on the number of healthy lifestyle factors they practiced:
- Unfavorable lifestyle
- Intermediate lifestyle
- Favorable lifestyle
Compared to individuals in the unfavorable lifestyle group, those in the intermediate group were 41% less likely to develop depression, and those in the favorable lifestyle were 57% less likely.
Considering the genetic factors that cause depression, the team examined the DNA of the participants and assigned each a genetic risk score.
This although has less impact than the lifestyle factor.
The research also showed that a healthy lifestyle can decrease the risk of depression in people with high, medium, and low genetic risk scores.
This buttresses the point that living a healthy lifestyle is essential in preventing depression despite your genetics.
A Professor from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, Barbara Sahakian said: "Although our DNA, the genetic hand we've been dealt, can increase our risk of depression, we've shown that a healthy lifestyle is potentially more important.
"Some of these lifestyle factors are things we have a degree of control over, so trying to find ways to improve them -- making sure we have a good night's sleep and getting out to see friends, for example, could make a real difference to people's lives."
How does one’s lifestyle influence their risk of depression?
In an extensive research, the team further examined the MRI brain scans from almost 33,000 individuals. They found the regions pallidum, thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus to be associated with healthy living.
Looking for further indicators, these researchers observed the blood for problems related to the immune system.
One of those indicators was the C-reactive protein, a molecule your body produces when you're stressed.
Less physical activity and little or no sleep can deteriorate your body's ability to fight stress. Exposure to stress can affect how your body regulates blood sugar and this can hasten age-related damage to your body cells and molecules.
Dr Christelle Langley, also from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: "We're used to thinking of a healthy lifestyle as being important to our physical health, but it's just as important for our mental health. It's good for our brain health and cognition, but also indirectly by promoting a healthier immune system and better metabolism."
More on the research here.
The bottom line
In a nutshell, having poor lifestyle habits directly affects your immune system and indirectly increases your risk of getting depressed. If you could drop those habits and strart living healthily, you'd be amazed how much better your life can become, both physically and mentally.
At Hope Mental Health, we are always happy to help you in your journey to better mental health. Get in touch now.