Here’s proof positive that healthier living increases your quality of life.

In a time when mental health has become a pressing concern, a groundbreaking study sheds light on the pivotal role of a healthy lifestyle in preventing depression. 

Published in Nature Mental Health on September 11, 2023, the research, conducted by an international team from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University, looks into the intricate interplay between lifestyle factors, genetics, brain structure, and our immune and metabolic systems. As a result of their research, they reveal some compelling insights into how our daily habits can shield us from the clutches of depression.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Warns How Depression Is a Global Concern

Depression affects approximately 280 million people from all around the world, according to the World Health Organization. They also caution that this mental health concern has become an enormous global public health issue. 

Furthermore, the WHO notes that depression does not discriminate. Indeed, it can afflict anyone, irrespective of age, gender, or socioeconomic status. 

However, individuals who have endured abuse, significant losses, or other traumatic events are at a heightened risk of developing depression. Notably, women are more susceptible to experiencing depression than men.


Here are some other statistics shared by WHO (based on their 2023 updates):

  • An estimated 3.8% of the global population grapples with depression.
  • This number includes 5% of adults, with a gender breakdown revealing 4% among men and 6% among women.
  • Among adults aged over 60, the prevalence rises to 5.7%.
  • Depression is approximately 50% more common among women than men.
  • Over 10% of pregnant women and postpartum women worldwide experience depression.
  • Tragically, over 700,000 people succumb to suicide annually. That makes it the fourth leading cause of death among individuals aged 15–29.

The onset of depression usually stems from a complex amalgamation of biological and lifestyle factors, making it imperative to unravel these complexities to formulate effective preventative strategies.

The UK Study Reveals the Seven Pillars of a Healthy Lifestyle

The researchers utilized the UK Biobank, a comprehensive biomedical database, to analyze data from nearly 290,000 individuals, including 13,000 who had experienced depression, for nine years. 

The study identified seven crucial healthy lifestyle factors that were inversely related to the risk of depression:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption. Although the study did not define this, the NIH notes that moderation means one drink daily for women and two drinks per day for men. 
  • Adherence to a healthy diet. The CDC suggests a diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains and limited milk, dairy, and meat consumption.
  • Regular physical activity. Much research agrees that everyone needs daily movement for a healthy lifestyle.
  • Ensuring healthy sleep patterns. 
  • Abstaining from smoking. All doctors agree that ending the use of tobacco products is fundamental to a longer, happier life.
  • Maintaining low-to-moderate sedentary behavior.
  • Fostering frequent social connections.

Among these, getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night emerged as the most potent factor. The sleep factor diminished the risk of depression, including single depressive episodes and treatment-resistant depression, by 22%. 

Frequent social connections, which generally reduced the risk of depression by 18%, were particularly efficient against recurrent depressive disorder.

Quantifying the Impact: Healthy Lifestyle vs. Genetics in Depression

Researchers categorized individuals into three groups based on adherence to healthy lifestyle factors: unfavorable, intermediate, and favorable lifestyles. 

Remarkably, those in the favorable lifestyle group were 57% less likely to develop depression than those in the unfavorable lifestyle group. When juxtaposed with genetic factors, lifestyle emerged as potentially more influential. 

Even among individuals with varying genetic risks for depression, a healthy lifestyle significantly slashed the risk, underscoring the connection between leading a healthy lifestyle and depression prevention.

Deciphering the Underlying Mechanisms

To comprehend why a healthy lifestyle mitigates depression risk, the researchers explored various factors, including brain structure and markers indicating immune system or metabolic issues. 

MRI brain scans from nearly 33,000 participants revealed that larger volumes in specific brain regions, such as the pallidum, thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus, were associated with a healthy lifestyle. 

Additionally, lifestyle impacted specific blood markers, like C-reactive protein and triglycerides. Previous studies have implicated these factors to impact stress response, immune function, and metabolic health.

healthy lifestyle

How Do the Brain Regions Mentioned in the Study Connect to Depression and a Healthy Lifestyle?

The pallidum, thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus (mentioned above) are integral brain components. In fact, each has a pivotal role in various aspects of mental health and overall well-being. 

The connection between these brain regions, a healthy lifestyle, and reduced susceptibility to depression is multifaceted.


  • Role: Involved in the regulation of voluntary movement and cognitive functions.
  • Connection: A healthy lifestyle, particularly regular physical activity, may enhance the functioning of the pallidum. Therefore, it may contribute to improving mood and reducing the risk of depression.


  • Role: Acts as the brain’s relay station, transmitting sensory and motor signals to one’s cerebral cortex. It also regulates consciousness, sleep, and alertness.
  • Connection: Healthy sleep, a component of a healthy lifestyle, is crucial for optimal thalamus function. Proper sleep can enhance the thalamus’s ability to regulate consciousness and alertness. As a result, it may mitigate factors contributing to depression.


  • Role: Central to emotion processing, fear responses, and pleasure.
  • Connection: Engaging in activities that promote social connection and pleasure, aspects of a healthy lifestyle, may positively influence amygdala function. Therefore, it potentially protects against stress and depressive symptoms.


  • Role: Crucial for memory formation and management of stress responses.
  • Connection: A healthy lifestyle, including stress-management practices, can support hippocampal function, potentially reducing vulnerability to stress-induced depressive episodes.

The Interconnected Influence of the Brain Regions on Mental Health

  • Neuroplasticity: Engaging in a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and social interactions, can enhance neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form new neural connections) in these regions, potentially fostering resilience against depression.
  • Stress Management: These brain regions are responsible for stress response regulation. A healthy lifestyle can modulate stress responses. Therefore, they may reduce the burden on these brain areas and lower depression risk.
  • Emotional Regulation: Emotional regulation, influenced by the amygdala and hippocampus, can be supported by a healthy lifestyle, mainly through practices that promote emotional well-being and social connection.

A Healthy Lifestyle Should Be Holistic for Best Brain Function and Depression Mitigation

These brain regions do not operate in isolation. Instead, they are components of an interconnected network that collectively influences mental health. A healthy lifestyle can holistically support the optimal functioning of these brain regions. Therefore, choosing healthier habits may reduce the risk of depression and enhance overall mental well-being.

The relationship between these brain regions, a healthy lifestyle, and depression is symbiotic. That’s because each aspect influences the others, weaving a complex tapestry that underscores the holistic nature of mental health.

A Holistic Approach to Mental Health

Dr. Christelle Langley, with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, emphasized:

“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.” 

The study advocates for a holistic approach to mental health, where physical and mental well-being are not segregated but seen as interconnected facets of overall health.

Professor Jianfeng Feng, from Fudan University and Warwick University, notes the importance of early education about the impact of a healthy lifestyle on one’s mental health. The professor suggests that such education should start for children in schools. 

The findings of this study show the profound impact of lifestyle on mental health. They also pave the way for implementing robust preventative strategies against depression, intertwining physical and mental health in a cohesive approach towards holistic well-being.


Final Thoughts on the Connection Between a Healthy Lifestyle and Decreased Depression Rates

This study of depression and its impacts serves as a beacon, guiding future research and public health policies towards a more integrated, healthy life approach in battling the global epidemic of depression. The findings underscore the necessity of embedding healthy lifestyle education and practices into our societal fabric. In doing so, we can ensure that individuals have the knowledge and tools to safeguard their mental health through their daily habits and choices.