The information in this post was adapted from the above Mini-Medical School presentation that was recorded in January 2022. Adam Bertroche, D.O. is an assistant professor of Behavioral Medicine and Medical Humanities and Bioethics and a physician at the DMU Clinic Behavioral Health.
Depression is prevalent in the United States and globally. It is estimated that 17.3 million Americans have had a major depressive episode in the last year with 13-26% of people having a depressive episode in their lifetime. Anyone that is suffering from depression is strongly encouraged to see their doctor for recommendations, which typically involves medications and therapy. While these interventions can be extraordinarily beneficial and improve quality of life substantially, there are several lifestyle changes that individuals can make that may assist with reducing depression along with standard interventions.
Improving diet, increasing physical activity, and improving your sleep quality can all lead to reductions in depression. It is hypothesized that these interventions improve depression through a variety of mechanisms including reduced inflammation, reduced oxidative stress, reduced cortisol levels, and increases in brain-derived neurotropic factor.
Aerobic exercise, such as running or jogging, can be beneficial in both preventing depressive episodes and reducing current depression. Other studies have demonstrated that resistance training and low-intensity work-outs may be beneficial in reducing depression as well. While the amount of physical activity required for these effects is uncertain and more may be better, there is some evidence that even a small amount of exercise a week can be beneficial. The important thing is to be active. For some, group programs, structured exercise regimens, or individually-tailored programs may be beneficial.
Improve Your Diet
Diet can also influence your susceptibility to depression. Unhealthy diets such as those with high amounts of processed food, refined grains, red meat, high-fat dairy, and desserts/sweets are correlated with developing depression. Conversely, individuals that consume diets consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, legumes, and low-fat dairy are associated with lower levels of depression. These changes in diet may not reduce the likelihood of depression, but also reduce the likelihood of other chronic medical problems.
Get Better Sleep
Insomnia and sleep disturbance are other factors that may play a role in depression. Up to 30% of the general population report some sleep disturbance, and 10% meet the criteria for insomnia. While depression often results in sleep disturbances, there is evidence that improving sleep can reduce depression independent of the depression itself. Additionally, persistent disturbances in sleep have been found as a risk factor for developing depression. Improving sleep habits may be an important factor in reducing and preventing depression, and there are other interventions such as medications and therapies that are available to improve sleep as well.
Regular exercise, bettering your diet, and improving sleep are lifestyle changes that can help reduce depression or reduce the likelihood of developing depression. These changes may not be a replacement for the standard treatment for depression but can certainly help. Individuals should discuss these options with a physician or mental health provider to see what would be appropriate for them.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, our providers at the DMU Behavioral Health Clinic are here to help you return to living life to the fullest. To schedule an appointment, visit the DMU Clinic website or call 515-271-1716.