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These habits can cut the risk of depression in half, according to a new study

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

Maria Stavreva/Getty Images

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Maria Stavreva/Getty Images

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

Maria Stavreva/Getty Images

If prevention is better than cure, here’s a strategy that can help you improve your mental health: spend the next week looking at your daily habits. You can write them down in a journal to keep track.

How well are you sleeping? Are you eating foods that nourish you? Did you make time for your favorite hobby and exercise? Did you meet up with friends or loved ones?

Your answers to these questions may help explain your mood and also your risk of depression. In fact, a new study finds that people who maintain a wide range of healthy habits, from good sleep to physical activity and strong social connections, are significantly less likely to experience episodes of depression. The researchers used Mendelian randomization – use genetics to study behavior – to confirm a causal link between lifestyle and depression. They found a reduced risk of depression even among people who have genetic variants that make them more susceptible.

“I think the biggest surprise is that if you have a favorable lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of depression by 57%, which is actually a pretty huge amount,” says the author of the study. Barbara Sahakianclinical psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge.

The study included data from almost 300,000 people in the UK Biobank database initiative. Researchers identified seven healthy habits and found that people who maintained the most of them (five or more) reduced their risk of depression by 57%. The researchers also looked at markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, which is linked to depression, and found that a healthy lifestyle is linked to better scores. C-reactive protein concentrations increase in response to inflammation.

Of course, severe depression needs treatment, and medications and therapy help many people feel better. But in recent years, as science has evolved, it has become clear that depression is not just a chemical imbalance. It’s much more complex, and a growing body of evidence points to the importance of habits and behaviors in helping to keep mental health strong.

1. The power of rest

At the top of the list is a good night’s rest. Sleeping seven to nine hours a night, on average, reduced the risk of depression by about 22% in the study. “Many of us think of sleep as kind of a passive process, but it’s an incredibly active process,” Sahakian says.

Sleep not only allows us to consolidate memories, helping us remember what we have learned during the day, but research shows that it plays a key role in keep our immune system strong. For example, a well-rested person is better at defend against the common cold. And although dreaming remains a mystery, the idea that Dreams can help us regulate our emotions. It goes back decades.

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

2. Exercise is an elixir

There is strong evidence linking physical activity with better mood. A previous study, based on data From surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they found that people who exercise regularly report fewer days of poor mental health.

And a recent meta-analysis found that physical activity was more effective than medications in reducing symptoms of depression. Antidepressant medications tend to be quicker in treating a depressive episode, says Douglas Noordsypsychiatrist Stanford Lifestyle Medicine Program. “But physical exercise has longer-lasting effects than an antidepressant,” she says.

For some people, medication provides a benefit at first, but then it fades over time, Noordsy says. “Whereas a lifestyle change can have a more permanent and long-lasting effect.” Noordsy and her colleagues use a range of evidence-based recommendations and toolsfrom medications to therapy and behavioral approaches including fitness, nutrition, sleep and stress management, to help empower patients.

3. Good nutrition is a necessity

Researchers found that people who maintained a healthy eating pattern were less likely to suffer an episode of depression. “I always recommend the Mediterranean diet or the MIND Diet” says Sahakian. Multiple studies show that a plant-based approach, full of greens, greens, berries, whole grains, lean proteins, including beans, and healthy fats, including nuts, can help reduce the risk of disease.

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the diet board, which has been shown to reduce hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. One study found that eating a salad every day It is linked to sharper memory and slower cognitive decline among healthy older people.

And a randomized controlled trial found that college students who followed a Mediterranean diet their depression scores improved after three weekswhile depression scores among students who continued to eat lots of refined carbohydrates, ultra-processed foods, and sugary snacks and drinks remained higher.

4 and 5. Limit alcohol and don’t smoke

Having a glass of wine or a beer helps many people feel relaxed, but limiting alcohol consumption to one drink a day or less for women and two drinks a day or less for men is the recommendation in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. People who regularly consume more than this amount have a increased risk of certain cancers and an increased risk of depression. Because?

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

There is a lot of Strategies to help people drink less.and increasingly, as the sober-curious movement grows, there are people taking a break for drink.

And when it comes to smoking, there is plenty of evidence that tobacco is not a healthy habit. And here they are programs to help people quit smokingincluding smoke-free medications, therapies and applications.

6. Limit sedentary time by reducing screen time

At a time when cultural norms and the pull of technology are causing us to spend more time in front of screens, there is growing evidence that this can harm our physical and mental health. “Sedentary behavior is very bad,” says Sahakian.

Humans are made to move, and while streaming your favorite shows may be fun right now, 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 in motion.

“The rate of mental health problems is increasing in close correlation with the deterioration of lifestyle factors,” says Noordsy. As useful as smartphones and internet-based technologies are in making our lives more convenient, it is common for people to sit for hours on end playing video games or scrolling.

“We know that long periods of sedentary lifestyle are an independent risk factor for depression, regardless of the amount of exercise you get,” says Noordsy. So even if you go for a run or bike ride for 30 minutes every day, if you then spend most of the day in front of a screen, it can have a detrimental effect on your mental health.

This is a particular concern for young people who spend a lot of time on social media. At a time when teenagers face high rates 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 Trim on screen time, including scheduling a day off each week and turning off notifications, bells and chimes, so we feel less tethered to our devices.

7. Cultivate friendships and social connections through hobbies.

This may seem obvious, but spending time with people we like, especially when doing activities we enjoy, helps improve our mood. Another new study, published in Nature medicineBased on surveys of people in 16 countries, it finds that people aged 65 and older who have hobbies report greater life satisfaction and less depression.

Noordsy says people tend to be aware of the connections between crossword puzzles and slowing cognitive decline, but there’s not as much awareness that hobbies, whether gardening, knitting, painting, gaming or volunteering, can help improve our mood. As the authors of the study point out, hobbies involve imagination, novelty, creativity, relaxation and stimulation.

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

Food to go

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

It is probably not possible to eliminate the depression that afflicts millions of Americans. Many people get better with medications and therapies, and there is now a growing body of evidence showing lifestyle medicine can help people change their behaviors. “I certainly see some people who can effectively manage their symptoms with lifestyle interventions,” Noordsy says. The key is for people to get the support they need to cope with the change.

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