Healthy lifestyle is a key to combating depression

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A new study published in Nature Mental Health, conducted by an international team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University, has highlighted the critical role a healthy lifestyle plays in reducing the risk of depression.

This research, which analyzed data from nearly 290,000 people in the UK Biobank over a nine-year period, provides significant insights into the interplay between lifestyle factors and mental health.

The World Health Organization reports that around one in 20 adults experience depression, a major public health concern globally.

The study’s comprehensive approach encompassed lifestyle factors, genetics, brain structure, and immune and metabolic systems to understand better how these elements correlate with depression.

The study identified seven key lifestyle factors associated with a lower risk of depression:

  1. Moderate alcohol consumption
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Regular physical activity
  4. Healthy sleep patterns
  5. Never smoking
  6. Low-to-moderate sedentary behavior
  7. Frequent social connections

Of these, healthy sleep — specifically, 7 to 9 hours per night — was found to have the most substantial impact, reducing depression risk by 22%.

Frequent social connection had a notable protective effect against recurrent depressive disorders, reducing risk by 18%.

Other findings included a 11% risk reduction with moderate alcohol consumption, 6% with a healthy diet, 14% with regular physical activity, 20% with never smoking, and 13% with low-to-moderate sedentary behavior.

Participants were categorized into three lifestyle groups: unfavourable, intermediate, and favourable. Those in the favourable group had a 57% lower likelihood of developing depression compared to the unfavourable group.

When examining genetic factors, the study found that lifestyle choices had a more significant impact on depression risk than genetic predisposition.

Even among those with varying genetic risks for depression, a healthy lifestyle substantially reduced their risk.

Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge emphasized the importance of controlling lifestyle factors, such as sleep and social activities, in mitigating the risk of depression.

The researchers also explored other related aspects, including MRI brain scans and blood markers, to understand the link between lifestyle and depression. They discovered that certain brain regions were larger and more connected in individuals with healthier lifestyles.

Markers indicating immune system and metabolic problems, such as C-reactive protein and triglycerides, were also linked to lifestyle.

The findings suggest that lifestyle impacts immune and metabolic functions, which in turn affects the risk of depression.

Dr. Christelle Langley from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge highlighted that a healthy lifestyle benefits both physical and mental health, particularly in brain function, immune system, and metabolism.

Professor Jianfeng Feng from Fudan University and Warwick University called for early education on the importance of a healthy lifestyle in schools, emphasizing its impact on mental health from a young age.

This study, supported by grants from organizations including the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Ministry of Science, China, underscores the importance of a holistic approach to mental health, where lifestyle choices play a crucial role.

If you care about health, please read studies that scientists find a core feature of depression and this metal in the brain strongly linked to depression.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about drug for mental health that may harm the brain, and results showing this therapy more effective than ketamine in treating severe depression.

The research findings can be found in Nature Mental Health.

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