7 Lifestyle Habits Cut Risk of Depression by 57 Percent, Study Finds

by Staff Writer
September 20, 2023 at 11:05 AM UTC

A nine-year UK Biobank study identifies seven habits that can reduce depression risk by 57%.

Clinical Relevance: A healthy lifestyle can make a difference in lowering depression risk

  • A nine-year UK Biobank study identifies seven habits that can reduce depression risk by 57 percent.
  • The study emphasizes moderate drinking, balanced eating, regular exercise, and social connections as key factors.
  • The findings hold true regardless of genetic predisposition to depression,

“The seven habits that prevent depression” may sound like a headline for a clickbait listicle, but it’s actually the conclusion of an evidence-based article just published in the journal, Nature Mental Health. Using data from the large UK Biobank, the nine-year investigation found that sticking to a healthy lifestyle—like eating well, exercising, and staying socially active—can significantly lower the risk of depression, regardless of genetic predisposition.  

Combining all of the factors reviewed in the paper lowered the chances of feeling depressed by an impressive 57 percent. In brief, here are the highlights:

Less Alcohol, Greater Spirits 

Moderate drinking, like a daily glass of wine or mug of beer, was associated with an 11 percent decreased risk of depression. But heavy drinking is another story. It’s well established that alcohol overconsumption leads to greater odds of depression. Excessive alcohol intake may lead to oxidative stress, neuroadaptive changes, and differences in brain structure and function, all of which are associated with mental health disorders, the study suggested. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women have no more than one drink a day and men have no more than two drinks daily.

Nourish to Flourish

Although the study didn’t explicitly spell out what “healthy eating” means, it implied that a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and easy on processed and junk food, might lower the risk of depression by about 6 percent.  Previous studies have associated the Mediterranean diet with lower rates of depression compared to pro-inflammatory diets. The DASH diet, designed for lowering blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors, has also demonstrated greater protection against depression compared to meat-heavy, plant-sparse diets.

Pump up, perk up

People who get moving on a daily basis enjoyed a 14 percent lower risk of depression. Regular physical activity, as defined in the study, involved meeting the American Heart Association Recommendations and World Health Organization Guidelines. This means engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, or participating in moderate physical activity for at least five days a week or vigorous activity for more than 10 minutes once a week. The study referenced a theory known as “muscle-brain crosstalk” as the reason exercise confers neuroprotective effects. That’s when a special chemical in the muscles called myokines sends signals to other organs, including the brain, telling them to improve overall function. 

Paused Pixels Boost Mood

The study considered a sedentary lifestyle as an independent factor from exercise. The authors note that long stretches of sitting wasn’t ideal for mental health. Taking breaks and stepping away from screens, even just occasionally, reduced the chances of depression by 13 percent.   

More Snooze, Fewer Blues

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep nightly on a regular basis is among the most effective ways to lower risk of depression, the study found. I can reduce the chances of depression by 22 percent. While the paper didn’t delve into specific mechanisms that explain why getting adequate rest has such a substantial influence over mood, some previous studies point to a disruption in circadian rhythms, neurotransmitters or hormones as factors linked to greater depression. But is lack of shuteye a cause or symptom of depression? That’s an open question.

No smoke, No stress

Never smoking decreased the risk of depression by 20 percent. Cigarettes and other tobacco products may cause brain damage linked to depression symptoms, the authors suggested. The study didn’t address depression risk among those who quit tobacco. However, past studies indicate that kicking the habit leads to improved overall mental health

Strong Bonds Lighten Mood

Maintaining robust social connections and a supportive social network of friends, families and community decreased the risk of depression by 18 percent. While the study didn’t speculate about how having social ties uplift mood, numerous other studies do. For example, an International Journal of Health study noted that just one standard deviation increase in social connectedness led to a 27 percent reduced risk of depression and an 18 percent reduced risk of anxiety over a one-year period. Another recent Nature Medicine study based on surveys of people in 16 countries,  suggested that seniors who share hobbies report higher life satisfaction and less depression.

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