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Healthy habits can lower the risk of depression by half: Study

In a new study, British researchers said that maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help reduce the chances of developing depression in older adults by up to 57%.

The study published in Nature Mental Health examines the correlation between lifestyle and depression risk. The research team, hailing from the esteemed Cambridge University, analysed data from the UK Biobank, which included over 287,000 participants spanning nine years. The findings indicate a strong correlation between depression risk and lifestyle factors. These results suggest that lifestyle habits should be considered when assessing and addressing risk factors for depression. 

Researchers analysed 197,344 patients to study the risk of depression based on genetic factors and lifestyle. Structural equation modelling of 18,244 participants provided information about the neurological mechanisms, including lifestyle, brain anatomy, depression, genetics, and immune metabolic functions.


Researchers also found that brain regions such as the pallidum, the precentral cortex, and peripheral biomarkers like triglycerides and C-reactive proteins were associated with lifestyle. Mendelian randomisation confirmed the correlation between depression risk and lifestyle.

Researchers also described seven healthy habits to prevent the risk of depression. They noted that to maintain good health, it is essential to get adequate sleep (7-9 hours), engage in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, avoid smoking, limit time spent on phones and gadgets, socialise with family and friends, and avoid alcohol consumption.

 According to the study, people who get enough sleep have a 22% lower risk of developing neurological conditions like depression.

 Dr Christelle Langley, the lead author and researcher at the University of Cambridge, said, "Lifestyle has a strong protective role across different levels of genetic risk for depression. People saw the most benefit when multiple good habits were practised together."

"Among those who reported at least five of the seven healthy habits, the risk of depression was 57% lower than people who adhered to no more than one. In the intermediate group with two to four healthy habits, depression risk was cut by 41%," she added.

She further mentioned that the wide tissue volume indicates better "cognitive control and emotional regulation," which describes the association between healthy habits and a reduced risk of depression.

 Depression, or depressive disorder, is a common neurological disorder characterised by mood swings, lack of interest and concentration, disturbed sleep, and hopelessness. Sometimes depression can trigger the subject to die by suicide.

A recent report published by the World Health Organisation estimates that depression affects around 280 million people globally.

Throwing light on the limitations of this study,  Dr Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer at the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, said, "The findings do not prove cause-and-effect, but they are compelling."

Pointing out that genetics associated with depression are complicated and have yet to be identified, and the risk score assigned to the participants in the study has limitations. Dr. Duckworth further said, "You're not helpless vis-à-vis your genes."

He motivated individuals and suggested that patients focus on small achievements daily. He said, "Going for a walk in the park is doable for most people, even if they feel like they don't have the energy or the motivation."

"If you're more active, you might sleep better. A daily walk gets you out in the world and possibly talking to more people. These things all build on each other," he added.

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