“We know that depression can start as early as in adolescence or young adulthood, so educating young people on the importance of a healthy lifestyle and its impact on mental health should begin in schools.” – Professor Jianfeng Feng

There has been new research on healthy lifestyles and the prevention of depression thanks to a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, and Fudan University. The experts working on the study utilized data from almost 290,000 people, 4% of that being individuals living with depression, over a nine year period.  (Healthy Lifestyle, 2023)

Healthy lifestyle factors that were were linked with having a lower risk of depression included:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • Healthy diet
  • Regular physical activity
  • Healthy sleep
  • Never smoking
  • Low to moderate sedentary behavior
  • Frequent social connection

Of all these factors, healthy sleep made the greatest impact.  The researchers found it reduced both depressive episodes, as well as treatment-resistant depression by 22%. The second largest difference came from having positive social interaction, reducing the risk of depression by 18%.  (Healthy Lifestyle, 2023)

“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. Some of these lifestyle factors are things we have a degree of control over, so trying to find ways to improve them — making sure we have a good night’s sleep and getting out to see friends, for example — could make a real difference to people’s lives.” – Professor Barbara Sahakian

The scientists also studied MRI scans and bloodwork to further research how lifestyle choices affect our physical bodies. Larger brain volume was linked to having a healthier lifestyle, but the most significant link was from lifestyle to immune and metabolic systems. Therefore, an unhealthy lifestyle compromises our immune system and metabolism, increasing our risk of depression. (Healthy Lifestyle, 2023)

“We’re used to thinking of a healthy lifestyle as being important to our physical health, but it’s just as important for our mental health. It’s good for our brain health and cognition, but also indirectly by promoting a healthier immune system and better metabolism.” – Dr. Christelle Langley

Journal Reference:

  1. Yujie Zhao, Liu Yang, Barbara J. Sahakian, Christelle Langley, Wei Zhang, Kevin Kuo, Zeyu Li, Yihan Gan, Yuzhu Li, Yang Zhao, Jintai Yu, Jianfeng Feng, Wei Cheng. The brain structure, immunometabolic and genetic mechanisms underlying the association between lifestyle and depressionNature Mental Health, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s44220-023-00120-1
  2. University of Cambridge. “Healthy lifestyle can help prevent depression — and new research may explain why.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/09/230911141148.htm>.