7 things happy people do that reduce depression by 57%

Around one in 20 adults experiences depression at some point in their lives. But how do you know the difference between a bout of the blues and clinical depression?

Usually, a blue mood is temporary, while depression lingers, grows more intense and interferes with your day-to-day activities. With depression, symptoms like fatigue, lack of enthusiasm and feelings of worthlessness keep you from finding enjoyment or purpose in life.

The factors influencing depression are complex and researchers are still working to understand all the nuances. But one international team has made some fascinating discoveries about the role lifestyle plays…

Lifestyle could be key to resolving depression

These researchers examined data from almost 290,000 people in the UK Biobank followed over a nine-year period. The UK Biobank is a biomedical database of genetic, lifestyle and health information about its participants.

Of those 290,000 people, about 13,000 had depression. The team then took a look at a combination of components, including lifestyle, genetics, brain structure and the immune and metabolic systems to identify the roles they may play in depression.

Out of all those, they were able to identify seven healthy lifestyle factors linked with a lower risk of depression. Then, to weigh the impact of each factor, the researchers split the participants into one of three groups based on the number of healthy lifestyle factors they adhered to.

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And they weren’t too surprised to find the folks in the favorable lifestyle group (those who could tick off the most from the list) were 57 percent less likely to develop depression compared to those in the unfavorable lifestyle group. Those in the intermediate lifestyle group were 41 percent less likely.

They also learned that out of the seven lifestyle factors, getting between seven and nine hours a night of sleep made the biggest difference, so we’ll consider it #1. Regularly getting a good night’s sleep reduced the risk of depression, including single depressive episodes and treatment-resistant depression, by 22 percent.

The other six factors impacted depression risk accordingly:

  • Frequent social connection reduced the risk of depression by 18 percent and protected the most against recurrent depressive disorder;
  • Never smoking reduced depression risk by 20 percent;
  • Regular physical activity by 14 percent;
  • Low-to-moderate sedentary behavior by 13 percent;
  • Moderate alcohol consumption by 11 percent;
  • and healthy diet by 6 percent.

Interestingly, genetic risk had a much smaller impact on depression risk than lifestyle — and past research has shown that as well about other genetic conditions.

“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 Barbara Sahakian, a professor at the University of Cambridge.

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How do lifestyle factors take depression down?

By examining MRI brain scans from just under 33,000 of the participants, the team was able to find several regions of the brain where the presence of more neurons and connections was associated with a healthy lifestyle.

They also studied biomarkers in the blood that indicated problems with the immune system or metabolism. Among those found to be connected to lifestyle was C-reactive protein, a molecule the body produces in response to stress, and triglycerides, one of the primary forms of fat the body uses to store energy for later.

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to C-reactive protein, also considered a chronic disease biomarker.

To put it simply, a poor lifestyle affects our immune system and metabolism, which in turn increases our risk of depression.

How to break the catch-22 of depression

All this is great news for helping to prevent depression. But what if you already have depression? In that case, it may be hard enough to make one lifestyle shift, let alone seven.

Ease into it by choosing one area to focus on, then take one step toward being healthier in that area.

For example, if you’re having trouble with exercise, try picking one type of exercise and doing it once a week to begin with. Yoga is a good choice because it’s been proven to help with depression. But even taking a walk around the neighborhood is a great start, particularly since on a sunny day it can give you a depression-fighting vitamin D boost.

As for diet, did you know some foods can help fight depression? Try adding a few to your daily menu, especially since they’re great for your overall health, too.

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1. Healthy lifestyle can help prevent depression — and new research may explain why — ScienceDaily

2. The brain structure, immunometabolic and genetic mechanisms underlying the association between lifestyle and depression — Nature Mental Health

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.