These habits can cut your risk of depression in half, a new study suggests

A study of nearly 300,000 people in the UK found that people who practiced at least five of seven healthy habits reduced their risk of depression by 57%.

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Maria Stavreva/Getty Images

A study of nearly 300,000 people in the UK found that people who practiced at least five of seven healthy habits reduced their risk of depression by 57%.

Maria Stavreva/Getty Images

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here’s a strategy that can help improve your mental health: Spend the next week working on your daily habits. You can log them to keep track.

How well do you sleep? Are you eating foods that nourish you? Have you made time for a favorite hobby or exercise? Have you gathered with friends or loved ones?

Your answers to these questions can help explain your mood and risk for depression. In fact, a new study shows that people who maintain a wide range of healthy habits, from good sleep to physical activity to strong social connections, are significantly less likely to experience episodes of depression. Researchers have used Mendelian randomization using genetics to study behavior, establishing a causal relationship between lifestyle and depression. They found a reduced risk of depression even in people who had genetic variants that made them more susceptible.

“I think the biggest surprise is that if you have a favorable lifestyle, you can reduce the risk of depression by 57%, which is really quite a large amount,” says study author Barbara Sahakyan, a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist. University of Cambridge.

The study included data from nearly 300,000 people in the UK Biobank database initiative. Researchers identified seven healthy habits and found that people who practiced five or more of them reduced their risk of depression by 57%. The researchers also analyzed markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, which is associated with depression, and found that a healthy lifestyle was associated with better scores. C-reactive protein concentrations rise in response to inflammation.

Of course, severe depression needs to be treated, and medication and therapy help many people feel better. But in recent years, as science has advanced, it has become clear that depression is not just a chemical imbalance. It’s much more complicated than that, and more and more evidence is showing the importance of habits and behaviors to help maintain mental health.

1. The power of rest

At the top of the list is a good night’s rest. In the study, getting an average of seven to nine hours of sleep reduced the risk of depression by about 22%. “Many of us consider sleep to be a passive process, but it is an incredibly active process,” says Sahakyan.

Not only does sleep allow us to consolidate memories, helping us remember what we’ve learned during the day, but research shows that it plays a key role in keeping our immune systems strong. For example, a well-rested person is better at warding off colds. And while dreaming is still a bit of a mystery, the idea that dreams can help us regulate our emotions goes back decades.

If you have insomnia or trouble sleeping, there is a lot of evidence that these strategies, based on cognitive behavioral therapy, can help.

2. Exercise is an elixir

There is a body of evidence linking physical activity to improved mood. A previous study based on surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who exercised regularly reported fewer days of poor mental health.

And a recent meta-analysis found that physical activity is more effective than medication in reducing depression symptoms. Antidepressant drugs tend to treat a depressive episode more quickly, says Douglas Nordsi, a psychiatrist in the Stanford Lifestyle Medicine Program. “But exercise has a longer-lasting effect than an antidepressant,” he says.

For some people, the medication works for them at first, but then it wears off over time, says Nordsi. “However, a change in lifestyle can have a more permanent and lasting effect.” Nordsi and her colleagues use a range of evidence-based recommendations and tools, from medications to therapy and behavioral approaches, including fitness, nutrition, sleep and stress management, to help empower patients.

3. Good food is a necessity

Researchers have found that people who maintain a healthy eating pattern are less likely to have an episode of depression. “I always recommend the Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet,” says Sahakyan. Many studies show that a plant-based approach with greens, vegetables, berries, whole grains, lean proteins including beans, and healthy fats including nuts can help reduce the risk of disease.

The MIND diet is a blend of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which has been shown to reduce hypertension, diabetes, heart attack and stroke. One study found that eating one salad daily was associated with sharper memory and slower cognitive decline in healthy older adults.

A randomized controlled trial found that college students following a Mediterranean diet improved their depression scores after three weeks, while students who continued to consume very refined carbohydrates, highly processed foods, and sugary snacks and drinks had higher scores.

4 & 5: Limit alcohol and don’t smoke

A glass of wine or beer helps many people relax, but limiting alcohol consumption to one or more drinks per day for women and two or fewer per day for men is recommended. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. People who regularly consume more than this amount have an increased risk of certain types of cancer and an increased risk of depression. Why?

People think of alcohol as a stimulant, but in reality, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows down brain activity. The more you drink, the more you chase the temporary high, which can increase the risk of addiction.

There are many strategies to help people drink less, and increasingly, as the sober curious movement grows, there are people taking a break from drinking.

And when it comes to smoking, there is plenty of evidence that cigarettes are not a healthy habit. And there are programs to help people quit, including medication, therapy, and quit smoking apps.

6. Limit sedentary time by reducing screen time

At a time when cultural norms and the pull of technology lead to more screen time, there is growing evidence that it can harm our physical and mental health. “Sedentary behavior is very bad,” says Sahakyan.

Humans are designed to move, and while binge-watching your favorite streaming shows may be fun in the moment, if this behavior becomes a daily habit, you’re probably spending too much time on the couch and not enough time interacting with people. or moving.

“The rate of mental health problems is increasing due to worsening lifestyle factors,” says Nordsi. As useful as smartphones and internet-based technologies are in making our lives convenient, it’s common for people to sit for hours and hours playing video games or scrolling.

“We know that being sedentary for long periods of time is an independent risk factor for depression, regardless of how much you exercise,” says Nordsi. So even if you go for a 30-minute run or bike ride every day, spending most of the day in front of a screen can have a detrimental effect on your mental health.

This is especially worrying for young people who spend a lot of time on social networks. At a time when teenagers face high levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness, there is growing evidence that social media can exacerbate and even cause these problems.

Here are some effective strategies to help people cut back on screen time, including scheduling a one-day break each week and turning off notifications, calls, and ringtones so we feel less attached to our devices.

7. Develop friendships and social connections through hobbies

This may seem obvious, but spending time with people we like, especially when we’re doing activities we enjoy, helps lift our spirits. Another new study that has been published Nature medicineBased on surveys of people in 16 countries, it was found that people aged 65 and older who have a hobby report greater life satisfaction and less depression.

Noordsy says people tend to know about the link between crossword puzzles and slowing cognitive decline, but not as much awareness that hobbies, whether it’s gardening, knitting, painting, playing games or volunteering, can help lift our spirits. According to the study authors, hobbies include imagination, novelty, creativity, relaxation and stimulation.

“It’s really nice to see a specific effect on mental health,” Nordsi says of the new study. “Hobbies really involve aspects of creativity and engagement,” he says, compared to the passive pursuits of watching TV or scrolling through social media. Whether it’s knitting or playing bridge, hobbies that may have been familiar to our grandparents, “they connect us in a way that people have been connected for generations,” says Nordsi.

The hotel

Just as we can take steps to reduce the risk of chronic disease, research shows that we can also take steps to reduce the risk of depression, says Sahakyan. And often, the same strategies that promote physical health are also good for our mental health.

Depression, which afflicts millions of Americans, may not be eradicated. Many people get better with medication and therapy, and there is now growing evidence that lifestyle medicine can help people change their behavior. “I certainly see some people who can effectively manage their symptoms with lifestyle interventions,” says Nordsi. The key is that people get the support they need to navigate the changes.

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