Researchers have revealed seven healthy lifestyle factors that reduce the risk of depression, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Mental Health. It has been determined that maintaining good quality sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, fostering frequent social connections, refraining from smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption are lifestyle factors that can decrease the risk of depression. Read on to find out what they are and how you can avoid the gloom. ALSO READ: Depression: Causes, symptoms and solutions Adequate sleep The researchers concluded that sleep was the most important factor, stressing that between seven to nine hours of sleep a night reduced the risk of depression, even treatment-resistant depression, by 22 per cent. The study explained that when we go to sleep, our brains go to work, performing a critical function that affects cognition and memory. When we sleep, our body removes toxins, such as beta-amyloid, which is implicated in cognitive decline, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. “Inadequate sleep can lead to challenges to manage emotions, which increases the risk of future depression.” ALSO READ: Depression: Cure is gradual and progress slow, but possible; this is how 2. Frequent social connection Frequent social connections have been identified as the most effective measure against recurrent depressive disorder, reducing the risk of depression by 18 per cent. Failure to engage in these healthy behaviours can exacerbate feelings of depression. 3. Healthy diet A healthy diet was found to reduce the risk of depression by 6 per cent. Researchers highlighted that by taking positive control of one’s diet, people can take a step forward in fighting the symptoms of depression — or preventing it altogether. According to the research, although depression is a complex condition that can have multiple causes, dietary interventions can be an easy, self-empowering way of working towards better mental health. Additionally, importantly, a healthy diet does not come with a list of potential side effects, as do some of the most common antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). 4. Regular physical activity According to the study, regular physical activity reduced the risk of depression by 14 per cent. Physical activity is 1.5 times more effective at reducing mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression, psychological stress, and anxiety, than medication or cognitive behaviour therapy. All forms of exercise can benefit mental health, the study found, although higher-intensity activities produce the strongest benefits. The study found that briefer exercise programmes provide more benefits than extended routines. The benefits of physical activity interventions diminished with longer-duration programmes. 5. Never smoking According to the study, never smoking decreased the risk of depression by 20 per cent. Smoking can expose individuals to various health problems, making it advisable to steer clear of this unhealthy and risky habit. 6. Limiting alcohol consumption The researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption reduced the risk of depression by 11 per cent. Experts say that the greater the amounts of alcohol consumed and the more regular the intake, the more likely a person will develop temporary anxiety and depressive symptoms. As consumption increases, the symptoms also are likely to intensify. 7. Keeping sedentary behaviour to a minimum Low-to-moderate sedentary behaviour reduced the risk of depression by 13 per cent. Mental health damage such as stress, dementia, and sleeping problems caused by sedentary behaviours have also been reported in a number of studies. Research also highlighted that depression is very treatable, it’s one of the most common mental health conditions that have several treatments with solid backing – self-help books, mindfulness, medication, activity scheduling, cyclic breathing and therapy are all options — depending on what someone wants to pursue. A therapist’s point of view According to Chantal Mudahogora, a psychotherapist at Solid Minds, a mental health clinic in Kigali, risk factors of depression can be alleviated by a change of lifestyle. ALSO READ: Depression: There is no shame in seeking help “Parents ought to ensure that they don’t smoke or drink while breastfeeding, and should consider what’s best for their babies as soon as possible,” she said. Mudahogora added that children should be raised in a stable environment surrounded by love, care, and bonding, stressing that this helps with healthy ageing, especially with emotional regulation. The psychotherapist further noted that prevention of depression starts with healthy habits, like starting a healthy diet early. She added that although exercising is key as it releases energy, once one stops, their depressing thoughts are likely to reappear. Mudahogora advised seeking professional support and medical treatment when depressed. What is depression? Mudahogora described depression as a common and serious medical illness that harmfully affects how one feels, thinks and acts. “The condition is sometimes triggered by environmental factors, hereditary, or brain chemicals like dopamine, and serotonin imbalance and others can affect the processing of emotions and thoughts thus resulting in signs of depression.” Mudahogora also explained that medications and other illnesses, chronic pain, and some conditions that affect mood, for instance, a deficiency of Vitamin B12 may activate symptoms like depression. She also noted that depression can be temporary, for example, as a result of the death of a loved one, job loss, separation, and other everyday life issues, hence the need for support. “You can tell that you are depressed if you usually isolate yourself, detach from close circles, experience mood changes, lose appetite, and other eating disorders, have sleep disturbances, or withdraw from your hobbies,” the psychotherapist stated. She highlighted other complicated signs such as psychosomatic diseases like physical symptoms that are worsened or complicated by mental factors like skin rash, digestive issues, and migraines. “Like any other condition, if depression is not treated, it may cause other chronic sicknesses,” Mudahogora noted.