A recent study has found that adopting a healthy lifestyle may significantly lower the risk of developing depression. The analysis, which included data from over 200,000 people in the UK, revealed that individuals who engaged in habits such as regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and a healthy diet had a 57% lower risk of developing depression compared to those who did not follow these practices.
Led by Barbara Sahakian at the University of Cambridge, the study examined various lifestyle factors, including alcohol and nicotine use, physical activity, diet, sleep, and relationships. Participants completed a questionnaire between 2006 and 2010, and their health records were accessed for the 13-year follow-up period. During this time, 12,916 participants were diagnosed with depression.
After accounting for variables such as age, sex, body mass index, socioeconomic status, and education, the researchers identified seven lifestyle factors associated with a reduced risk of depression. These included moderate alcohol intake, not smoking, getting sufficient sleep, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, socializing frequently, and minimizing sedentary behavior.
Participants were then categorized based on their adherence to these habits. Those who followed five to seven of these practices had, on average, a 57% lower risk of developing depression compared to those who followed fewer than two habits. Notably, getting enough sleep, exercising, and socializing had the greatest impact, each associated with a 20% lower risk of depression.
Brain scans of a subset of participants also revealed that those with a higher number of healthy lifestyle habits had larger brain volumes in regions known to influence mood. This suggests a potential link between lifestyle choices, brain biology, and the likelihood of experiencing depression.
However, Maura Boldrini at Columbia University in New York cautions against assuming a one-way causality between lifestyle and depression. She points out that depression itself can make it challenging for individuals to find motivation to exercise and eat healthily.
While this study highlights the potential benefits of a healthy lifestyle in reducing the risk of depression, further research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between lifestyle choices and mental health.