Many factors play a role in the risk of developing depression. Although we can’t change our genetics, making healthy lifestyle choices can have a positive effect on both our physical and mental well-being. In fact, lifestyle may play a more significant role than genetic risk factors for depression. Researchers have identified seven healthy lifestyle habits that can help protect your long-term mental health and well-being.
1. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy, high-fiber diet is good for your overall health and well-being. The best way to get the essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber you need each day is to brighten your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes plant-based foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and enjoying meals with family and friends. In addition to reducing your risk of heart disease and other chronic medical conditions, the Mediterranean diet and other healthy eating plans can help you keep depression at bay.
2. Move more, sit less
You know that exercise is good for your body, but regular physical activity can also help you manage depression and anxiety. Most people find that exercise reduces tension and stress, improves concentration, and acts as a mood stabilizer. And people who exercise feel more energetic throughout the day and sleep better at night.
While many people with depression benefit by taking antidepressants or other medications, our brain can adapt to medicine over time, leading to burnout. Regular exercise and other healthy lifestyle changes often have more durable effects that last for the long term.
Read more about the mental health benefits of exercise.
And if you’re too busy to go to the gym, discover sneaky ways to make time for exercise.
3. Develop and maintain strong relationships
Social isolation can raise your risk of depression, so it’s important to build connections with family, friends, neighbors, and people who share your interests. Join a local group, take a class, or be active in a faith-based organization. If you can’t get together in person, find a group that hosts virtual meetings you can attend online. Strong relationships provide social support and can help you feel connected to something larger than yourself. Our friends and loved ones remind us that we’re not alone.
4. Make time for hobbies you enjoy
People with hobbies tend to have a more satisfying life. From reading and photography to traveling, knitting, and gardening, there are any number of ways to explore your interests and connect with others.
Other popular hobbies include cooking and baking, fishing, bird-watching, genealogy, painting and drawing, collecting, music, video games, and board games.
Volunteering your time and supporting friends and loved ones is another way to cultivate a sense of purpose that builds resilience. Helping others gives meaning to your life and contributes to positive mental health. Even small acts of kindness can make you feel grounded and more at peace.
5. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume
While some research studies have found that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease, it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of alcohol use. Alcohol consumption is linked to a number of health risks, and excessive alcohol slows the central nervous system and can lead to depression.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed dietary guidelines for alcohol for adults of legal drinking age. For adults who choose to drink alcohol, try to limit yourself to no more than a drink or two on the nights you drink.
Remember, different types of beer, wine, malt liquor, or spirits contain very different amounts of alcohol, so it’s important to understand what is a standard drink.
6. Quit smoking
Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It also raises your risk of developing depression.
If you’ve tried quitting but started smoking again, your doctor or healthcare provider can refer you to local resources to help you create a quit plan that is right for you.
When you’re trying to quit, the urge to use tobacco is powerful. Each time you resist a craving, you’re one step closer to kicking the tobacco habit for good. Discover ways to resist tobacco cravings.
7. Get the recommended amount of sleep
Of all the lifestyle factors that can reduce the risk of depression, getting the recommended amount of sleep may be the most important one of all. In addition to boosting your immune system, sleep plays a crucial role in promoting emotional wellness by giving your mind time to rest and recharge. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can make you irritable and less energetic.
How much sleep do you need? Most healthy adults should try to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night—or each day, if you work nights. Establishing a regular sleep rhythm that supports your biological clock can help you get better sleep. That’s why it’s important to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
Discover nine tips for better sleep and what to do if insomnia keeps you up at night.
Ways to treat depression
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, and it’s highly treatable. While many people benefit from medicine and behavioral therapy, making healthy lifestyle choices may help you find long-term relief from your symptoms. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to preventing or treating depression. Rather, adopting all of these habits together over a lifetime seems to make a difference.