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Want To Lower Your Risk For Depression? Study Says Make Sure You're Doing These 7 Things

Sarah Regan
September 11, 2023
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Stressed Woman
Image by Viktor Solomin / Stocksy
September 11, 2023

A person's risk for depression comes down to a number of factors, both genetic and lifestyle-related. But according to new research published in Nature Mental Health1, there are seven specific lifestyle factors that can help reduce depression risk—even if you're genetically predisposed. Here's what they found.

Studying the lifestyle factors that impact depression risk

For this study, researchers wanted to dig into not only which lifestyle factors can help reduce depression risk but also why they may reduce depression risk.

To do so, they examined data from nearly 290,000 people (13,000 of which had depression) over nine years, looking at their lifestyle habits, genetics, brain structure, immune system, and metabolic data.

The data came from the UK Biobank, a large medical database that includes genetic, health, and lifestyle information on participants.

They also examined MRI brain scans from nearly 33,000 participants, as well as looking for blood markers that show immune or metabolic problems.

Not only did they identify the seven more important lifestyle factors for preventing depression, but they also discovered that those lifestyle factors had the biggest impact on immune and metabolic function, which subsequently impact depression risk.

What they found

Based on their findings, these are the seven healthy lifestyle factors associated with a lower risk for depression:

  1. Healthy sleep: Getting healthy sleep (which the study authors note is seven to nine hours a night) was the most important factor overall, reducing the risk of depression by 22%.
  2. Never smoking: Reduced depression risk by 20%.
  3. Frequent social connection: Reduced depression risk by 18% and was most protective against recurrent depressive disorder.
  4. Regular physical activity: Reduced depression risk by 14%.
  5. Low-to-moderate sedentary behavior: Reduced depression risk by 13%.
  6. Moderate alcohol consumption: Reduced depression risk by 11%. ("Moderate" is defined2 by the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention as no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men.)
  7. Healthy diet: Reduced depression risk by 6%.

And in case you're wondering about the compounding effects of multiple healthy lifestyle factors, the research further showed that adhering to all of these factors can decrease your risk of depression by up to 57%.

Even those participants who showed the lowest genetic risk for depression were only 25% less likely to develop it compared to those who were more genetically predisposed, suggesting lifestyle factors could be more important than DNA when it comes to depression.

As study co-author and professor of clinical neuropsychology Barbara Sahakian, Ph.D., explains in a news release, "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."

The takeaway

Even if your genes say you're at a higher risk for depression, this research suggests that picking up healthy lifestyle habits can make a world of a difference. There are plenty of reasons to focus on getting adequate sleep, connecting with others, and staying active—and now reducing depression risk if one more reason.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.