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Lifestyle and Depression

There is no better way to minimize the doses or number of medications you need to treat your depression than by eliminating unhealthy lifestyle choices and substituting healthy ones in their place. Sound crazy? Think  again.  

Thousands of research studies have shown that diet, activity level, body weight, smoking, drinking, sleep and psychosocial functioning each can determine the frequency and severity of your recurrent episodes. And you are in total control of your lifestyle.

Each lifestyle factor is important. Diet may be the most impactful and a plant-based diet is the healthiest. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, 100% whole grains, nuts and seeds. Current research suggests that 8-10 servings of fruits and veggies a day promote the greatest health. Limit nuts and seeds to 1-2 ounces per day.

You should aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week plus 2-3 sessions of resistance training per week.  Unless you are a committed athelete, choose physical activities that you enjoy.  Walking outside, weather permitting, is the ideal aerobic exercise.  Start low and increase slowly.

Body weight should be maintained at a normal BMI. Diet and exercise are the essential determinants of weight, but alcohol, sleep and stress (one of the elements of psychosocial functioning) are important scecondary factors.

Few individuals realize that smoking not only causes lung cancer and COPD but is a major risk factor for depression. Smoking cessation dramatically reduces the risk of recurrent episodes. In one study, alcoholics admitted to a rehab facility were assessed for depression and reassessed four weeks later.

Moderate alcohol intake may be safe but minimal is safer. If you have difficulty moderating your alcohol consumption, you probably have an alcohol problem. Talk to you doctor about stopping. Alcoholics Anonymous is a tried and true way to stop drinking. In one study, alcoholics admitted to a hospital for detox were assessed for depression and reassessed two weeks. later. On admission, 42% met criteria for MDD. Two weeks later, the percentage dropped to only 18%. Two weeks without alcohol made the difference. 

Sleep is a sleeper where depression is concerned. Few are aware that sleeping less than 6 or more than 9 hours per night increases the risk and persistence of depression. Practice good sleep hygiene to get a better night's sleep. Working shifts during the normal hours of sleep not only increases the risk of depression but also the risk of cancer. The hormone, melatonin, has anti-cancer effects and it is only produced in the dark.

Psychosocial functioning includes stress, social involvement and self-esteem. Each of these elements has pronounced effects on the risk and persistence of depression. Problems in any of these spheres of psychosocial functioning can be improved in individual psychotherapy.

Modifying your lifestyle by eliminating unhealthy choices can dramatically improve your treatment for depression. Most of the research supporting these actions were published in the last 10 years - too soon to be part of standard medical care. But you can get a jump start and take action now!                        


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