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A Healthy Lifestyle Helps Depression

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Updated August 11, 2008

A healthy lifestyle can not only make you physically stronger, it can also help you better control your depression symptoms and be emotionally stronger. The following are components of a healthy lifestyle, which can positively impact your depression.

1. Get Regular Exercise

Multiple studies have shown that exercise is beneficial to those with depression. In fact, a 2007 placebo-controlled trial out of Duke University — the first of its kind — found that exercise may be just as effective in relieving depression as the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline).

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2. Improve Your Sleep Habits

While insomnia can be caused by depression, the relationship also works in reverse. Untreated insomnia can be a risk factor for depression. Developing good sleep habits can be effective in relieving insomnia and may reduce your risk of future depression.

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3. Get Daily Sunlight (or Use a Light Box)

The brain uses sunlight entering through the eyes as a means to set the body's internal clock. When we don't get enough sunlight at the right times — generally because of work schedules and the shorter days of winter — our natural hormonal rhythms are thrown off balance. Levels of serotonin decrease, and we feel tired and depressed. When this phenomenon follows a seasonal pattern, it is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While natural sunlight is the ideal, you can also purchase a light box for use when sunlight is not available.

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4. Improve Your Diet

A poor diet can contribute to depression in several ways. A variety of different vitamin and mineral deficiencies are known to cause symptoms of depression. Researchers have also found that diets either low in omega-3 fatty acids or with an imbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 are associated with increased rates of depression. In addition, diets high in sugar have been associated with depression.

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5. Avoid Alcohol

Because it is easy to obtain and socially acceptable, alcohol is one of the most popular drugs chosen for the self-medication of depression. Rather ironically, it is classified as a depressant and studies have shown that in the longrun it actually decreases levels of serotonin and other chemicals involved in mood regulation. Excessive alcohol use can also interfere with a person's ability to successfully resolve situations, which may be contributing to their depression. In addition, alcohol is incompatible with many of the drugs used to treat depression.

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6. Avoid Caffeine

While there is no proven link between caffeine and depression, there is some evidence that it may be helpful to remove it from your diet. A small cohort trial found that eliminating refined sugar and caffeine from the diet brought improvement in depression symptoms after one week. When the subjects were then challenged with these substances, their depression symptoms returned. In other studies, regular high-level caffeine consumption (>750 mg per day) has been associated with depression. Caffeine consumption can also cause insomnia, which may be a risk factor for depression.

Sources:

Mahowald, Mark W. "Disorders of Sleep." Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Ed. Lee Goldman and Dennis Ausiello. Philadelphia: Sauders Elsevier, 2008. Accessed: May 28, 2008.

Schnieder, Craig and Erica Lovett. "Chapter 9 - Depression." Integrative Medicine. Ed. David Rakel. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunder Elsevier, 2007. Accessed: May 28, 2008.

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