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A look into the link between depression and lifestyle changes

In recent years there has been a growing body of scientific evidence that has been reshaping the scientific understanding of depression. In the past, the cause of depression was largely understood to be largely be defined by neurochemical imbalances that would impact brain function, causing depression.. Recent research has shown that depression is also influenced by lifestyle-driven factors. These lifestyle factors, notably diet and exercise, do not directly cause or cure depression, however they do play a role in mediating the development, progression and treatment of depression. Whilst the nature of the relationship between diet, exercise and depression is being more thoroughly established, the direct mechanisms by which these lifestyle factors interact with depression is still not clear, due partly to the complex relationship between these factors and the relatively new nature of the research. Research in this area is ongoing with scientists across the globe working to better understand these factors and how they influence depression.

Research into exercise and depression

Recent scientific studies have been expanding our understanding of the ability of regular exercise to have a positive impact on mental health, and the role it can play in reducing the likelihood of developing depression and the reduction of its symptoms. One study done on a pool of 50,000 women over 10 years found that women who were more physically active had a lower risk of depression. In addition the study found that the risk of depression increased with low levels of exercise (Lucas, Mekary, Pan et al 2011). A meta-analysis of the results from 11 randomised control clinical trials, found that exercise can form a highly effective part of the treatment of depression (Stathopoulou G. Powers MB. Berry AC et al. 2006). As the evidence highlighting the positive effects of exercise on depression grows, the question of how much exercise helps is coming to the fore.

One study has suggested that the benefits of exercise plateau after roughly 3 hours of exercise a week (Hoffman BM. Baby MA. Craighead WE et al 2011), with another study suggesting that any increase in exercise was better than no exercise (Choi K. Chen CY. Stein M. 2019). Research into the link between depression and exercise is ongoing, as is a movement to incorporate exercise into treatment strategies.

If you are depressed or stressed, finding the time to exercise will help you feel more healthy both physically and mentally. If you find it hard to exercise try to find someone to exercise with, as they may help motivate you to exercise. This goes both ways and if someone you care about is depressed or is at risk of depression organising to exercise with them (ideally regularly) could be a great way of supporting them through their mental illness. Longer and more vigorous exercise is best, however any amount of exercise will have a positive change, so even going for walks will yield positive results for mental health.

"Recent research has shown that depression is also influenced by lifestyle-driven factors"

Research into diet and depression

Our understanding of diet and it’s role in depression has been changing recently as evidence emerges of the role the gut has in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters. The gut and the microbiome of bacteria that live in it, control the production and inhibition of certain hormones such as serotonin, which is a powerful mood regulation hormone. Recent research by Raes j et al (2019) examined the gut biome in 2000 individuals. The researchers identified that two specific bacterial families were consistently depleted in people with depression. The team of researchers found that the ability of microorganisms to produce certain important neurotransmitters was associated with better mental quality of life.  Diet creates the environment that our gut bacteria live in. As such diet directly affects our gut bacteria's ability to function and survive which in turn affects their ability to produce the neurotransmitters important to our functioning.  Diets that are centred on vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, fish and wholegrain foods have been associated with reduced chances of depression (Jacka FN. Pasco JA et al 2010), whilst diets that contain higher amounts of processed foods have been associated with an increased chance of depression (Jacka FN. Pasco JA et al 2011).

One shortcoming of current research is that the effectiveness of improving diet on someone who is currently depressed has not been established. However our understanding of the gut and its role in depression is evolving and based on current studies there are good chances that in the future diet will play a role in the treatment of depression. Eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit, while minimising intake of processed foods will help to keep our gut biome healthy and help to reduce your chances of developing depression. Whilst it has not yet been proven with scientific research a healthy diet may also help an individual struggling with depression.

As our understanding of depression evolves it is encouraging to find that straightforward lifestyle changes to diet and exercise can play a role in maintaining good mental health. When life gets hectic, diet and exercise are things that can very easily fall by the wayside. This is especially true for individuals suffering from mental health issues Understanding that these two factors are important to our mental, and physical well being means that individuals have the power to take simple straightforward steps to better their mental health.

Learn more about mental health at Seribu Tujuan

Choi K. Chen CY. Stein M. (2019) Assessment of bidirectional relationships between physical activity and depression among adults A 2-sample mendelian randomisation study. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online January 23 2019 doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175

Hoffman BM. Baby MA. Craighead WE. Sherwood A. Doraiswamy PM. Coons MJ. Blumenthal JA.  (2011) Exercise and pharmacotherapy in patients with major depression: one-year follow up of the smile study. Psychosomatic Medicine Volume 73 issue 2

Jacka FN. Pasco JA. Mykleturn A. Williams LJ. Hodge AM. O’Reilly SL. Nicholson GC. Kotowicz MA. Berk M (2010) American Journal of Psychiatry Volume 167 issue 3

Jacka FN. Pasco JA. Mykletun A. Williams LJ. Nicholson GC. Kotowicz MA. Berk M. (2011) Diet quality in bipolar disorder in a population based sample of women. Journal of Affective Disorders. Volume 129 issues 1-3

Lucas, M. Mekary R. Pan A. Mirzaei F. O’Reilly EJ. Willett WC. Koenen K. Okerekee OI. Ascherio A. (2011) Relation between clinical depression risk and physical activity and time spent watching television in older women: a 10 year prospective follow up study. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 174, Issue 9

Stathopoulou G. Powers MB. Berry AC. Smits JA. Otto MW. (2006) Exercise interventions for mental health: a quantitative and qualitative review. Clinical Psychology Science and Practice Volume 13 Issue 2