CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — Seven essential healthy lifestyle habits significantly mitigate the risk of depression, according to new research. The most impactful among these is a good night’s sleep, which reduces the risk by 22 percent, the study reveals.
The habits that help lower the risk of depression are moderate alcohol consumption, a nutritious diet, regular physical activity, quality sleep, abstaining from smoking, low-to-moderate sedentary behavior, and maintaining an active social life. The international research team, including experts from the University of Cambridge, analyzed various factors such as lifestyle habits, genetics, brain structure, as well as immune and metabolic systems to unearth the underlying mechanisms connecting lifestyle to depression.
Depression affects approximately one in 20 adults globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and poses a considerable burden on public health. Researchers emphasize that multiple complicated factors, including a combination of biological and lifestyle elements, influence the onset of depression.
To deepen their understanding, the researchers utilized the UK Biobank, a comprehensive database containing anonymized genetic, lifestyle, and health information. By studying data from nearly 290,000 individuals — 13,000 of whom were diagnosed with depression — over a nine-year span, the team identified these seven lifestyle factors linked to a lower risk of developing the condition.
Frequent social interactions reduced the risk of depression by 18 percent and proved to be the most protective against recurrent depressive disorders, according to findings. Additionally, moderate alcohol consumption lowered the risk by 11 percent, a healthy diet by six percent, regular physical activity by 14 percent, abstaining from smoking by 20 percent, and low-to-moderate sedentary behavior by 13 percent.
Individuals were categorized into one of three lifestyle groups: unfavorable, intermediate, and favorable. Those in the intermediate group had a 41-percent lower risk of developing depression compared to the unfavorable group, while the favorable group was 57 percent less likely to develop the condition. The study also analyzed the genetic predispositions of the participants.
“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,” says University of Cambridge Professor Barbara Sahakian in a media release.
The team additionally investigated brain MRI scans from more than 30,000 participants and discovered that larger volumes in specific brain regions, including the pallidum, thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus, were associated with a healthy lifestyle. Markers like C-reactive protein, a molecule produced in response to stress, and triglycerides, a primary form of body fat, were also linked to lifestyle.
“It’s good for our brain health and cognition, but also indirectly by promoting a healthier immune system and better metabolism,” explains Dr. Christelle Langley from the University of Cambridge. “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.”
The research is published in the journal Nature Mental Health.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.