7 healthy lifestyle practices can halve the risk of depression

A study led by Feng Jianfeng, distinguished professor at Fudan University’s Institute of Brain-like Intelligence Science and Technology, and others found that people with healthy lifestyles were half as likely to suffer from depression as people with unhealthy lifestyles. This suggests that lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and socializing, can reduce the risk of depression. The findings were published September 11 in Nature Mental Health.

Exercise and socializing can help people avoid depression. Image credit: SolStock/Getty Images

Barbara Sahakian’s team at the University of Cambridge, a distinguished professor at the Institute of Brain-like Intelligence Science and Technology at Fudan University, analyzed data on more than 280,000 adults living in the UK, including alcohol and nicotine use, physical activity, diet, sleep and relationships. Participants completed a lifestyle questionnaire between 2006 and 2010 and allowed the researchers to view their health records.

During the 13-year follow-up period, 12,916 participants were diagnosed with depression. After adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, socioeconomic status and educational attainment, the researchers found that 7 lifestyle factors were associated with a lower risk of depression. These include: drinking alcohol in moderation, never smoking, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, attending social activities regularly, and minimizing sedentary activity.

The researchers then categorized the participants according to their lifestyles. Compared with people who adhere to less than two habits, people who develop 5~7 of these habits have an average lower risk of depression by 57%. Adequate sleep, exercise, and socializing were the biggest contributors, all associated with a 20% lower risk of depression.

The researchers performed brain scans on some of the participants and found that healthy lifestyle habits were associated with greater brain volume in brain regions that affect mood, such as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Sahakian said this suggests that lifestyle has an impact on brain biology, which may explain the link between a healthy lifestyle and a lower risk of depression.

However, Maura Boldrini of Columbia University in the United States said depression makes it harder for people to find motivation to exercise and eat healthily. She argues that this causal relationship is not necessarily one-way. (Source: China Science News Xin Yu)

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