Sleep, socialise and thrive: The power of lifestyle in preventing depression

Why your choices matter most in the battle against depression

6-car-free Embracing a healthy lifestyle can keep depression at bay

Living a healthy lifestyle can play a significant role in preventing depression, and a recent study have unveiled why this connection exists.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University teamed up to explore the relationship between our way of life and the risk of developing depression. Their findings emphasise that adopting a healthy lifestyle can make a substantial difference in reducing the chances of depression.

Depression affects many people worldwide, and its onset is influenced by a mix of biological and lifestyle factors. To delve deeper into this connection, the scientists delved into a vast database called the UK Biobank, which contains anonymous information about genetics, lifestyle, and health from thousands of participants.

Educating young people about the importance of these lifestyle choices in schools can be a vital step in preventing depression from an early age.

Their study, published in Nature Mental Health, identified seven key factors of a healthy lifestyle that are linked to a lower risk of depression:

Moderate alcohol consumption: Enjoying alcohol in moderation can reduce the risk of depression by 11 percent.

Healthy diet: A nutritious diet can lower the risk by 6 percent.

Regular physical activity: Engaging in regular exercise reduces the risk by 14 percent.

Healthy sleep: Getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep can make the most significant difference, reducing the risk by 22 percent.

Never smoking: Avoiding smoking lowers the risk by 20 percent.

Low-to-moderate sedentary behaviour: Reducing sitting time can cut the risk by 13 percent.

Frequent social connection: Maintaining strong social connections reduces the risk of depression by 18 percent, especially against recurrent depressive disorder.


By adhering to these healthy lifestyle factors, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of depression. The researchers divided participants into three groups based on their lifestyle choices: unfavourable, intermediate, and favourable. Those in the favourable lifestyle group were an impressive 57 percent less likely to develop depression compared to the unfavourable group.

Even more remarkable, this study highlighted that a healthy lifestyle outweighs genetic factors when it comes to preventing depression. Those with the lowest genetic risk for depression were only 25 percent less likely to develop it compared to those with the highest genetic risk. This underscores the immense importance of our everyday choices in shaping our mental health.

So, why does a healthy lifestyle have such a profound impact on depression risk? The researchers explored several factors:

  • Brain scans revealed that a healthy lifestyle was associated with larger brain volumes in crucial regions like the pallidum, thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus.
  • Lifestyle choices were linked to markers in the blood that indicate immune system and metabolic health. For instance, stress can affect blood sugar regulation, which, in turn, affects immune function. 
  • Poor physical activity and lack of sleep can impair the body's ability to respond to stress, potentially increasing depression risk.
  • Loneliness and lack of social support can lead to increased markers of immune deficiency, affecting mental health.

The pathway from a healthy lifestyle to improved immune and metabolic functions significantly lowers the risk of depression. So, maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn't just good for your physical health; it's crucial for your mental well-being too.