Researchers have identified seven healthy lifestyle habits that can potentially help in preventing depression. Among them, getting a good night's sleep has a significant impact, as it can reduce the risk of depression by 22%.

Depression is a serious mood disorder that interrupts a person's daily functioning, affecting their emotions and behaviors. Feeling sad, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, appetite changes, difficulty sleeping and thoughts of suicide are some of the signs of depression.

It is one of the most common mental disorders that affects around 21 million adults in the U.S. every year.

In the latest study, published in the journal Nature Mental Health, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University evaluated the impact of various lifestyle factors, genetics, brain structure and immune and metabolic systems on depression.

"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," Professor Barbara Sahakian, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release.

"Some of these lifestyle factors are things we have a degree of control over, so trying to find ways to improve them – making sure we have a good night's sleep and getting out to see friends, for example – could make a real difference to people's lives," the study lead author added.

The research team analyzed data from around 290,000 people from the U.K. Biobank, a biomedical database for over nine years. Of them, 13,000 had depression.

Researchers then identified seven lifestyle habits that can reduce the risk of depression:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • Healthy diet
  • Regular physical activity
  • Adequate sleep
  • Never smoking
  • Low-to-moderate sedentary behavior
  • Having a frequent social connection

Having a healthy sleep for seven to nine hours can reduce the risk of depression by 22% and frequent social interaction reduces it by 18%. While sleep is crucial for preventing single depressive episodes and treatment-resistant depression, social connection works best against recurrent depressive disorder.

The habit of not smoking reduced depression risk by 20%, followed by regular physical activity (14%), low to moderate sedentary behavior (13%), limiting alcohol consumption to moderate levels( 11 %) and healthy diet (6%).

"Based on the number of healthy lifestyle factors an individual adhered to, they were assigned to one of three groups: unfavorable, intermediate and favorable lifestyle. Individuals in the intermediate group were around 41% less likely to develop depression compared to those in the unfavorable lifestyle, while those in the favorable lifestyle group were 57% less likely," the researchers said.

They also examined how a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of depression. Using MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging), the team evaluated the brains of the participants and found more neural connections in people with healthy lifestyles. They also looked at the markers in the blood – C-reactive protein and triglycerides that indicated problems with the immune system or metabolism.

Researchers concluded that poor lifestyle impacts the immune system and metabolism, which in turn increases the risk of depression.

"We're used to thinking of a healthy lifestyle as being important to our physical health, but it's just as important for our mental health. It's good for our brain health and cognition, but also indirectly by promoting a healthier immune system and better metabolism," said Dr. Christelle Langley, a co-author of the study.