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Harvard researchers discover the easy behavioral trick to avoiding depression

A new large-scale study out of Harvard Medical School elucidates how to avoid depression: socialize, socialize, socialize. The simple act of chatting up other people protects against depression.

Researchers looked at over 100,000 people in a cohort study called the UK Biobank, a data set that began in 2006, and thus is newly available for long-term analysis. The researchers examined 106 changeable behaviors, such as sleep patterns, diet, exercise, media intake, environment, and socializing.

The study’s focus on lifestyle factors that you can easily modify make it particularly useful if you suffer from depression. “Far and away, the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlights the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion,” says lead author Jordon Smoller, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Socializing protects against depression even for people highly prone to depression due to either genetics or early-life traumas.

The study is equally as interesting for what it didn’t find: Though many behaviors, such as sleep patterns, were associated with depression, researchers applied a complex statistical method called Mendelian randomization to find which behaviors likely cause depression. Researchers found two behaviors to avoid:

  • TV watching
  • Daytime napping

More research is needed to pinpoint why. For example, both daytime napping and TV watching could be proxies for sedentary behavior. In the meantime, the data clearly shows that you can’t go wrong with a lifestyle of socializing, daytime wakefulness, and minimal TV.

“Depression takes an enormous toll on individuals, families, and society, yet we still know very little about how to prevent it,” says Smoller. “We hope this work will motivate further efforts to develop actionable strategies for preventing depression.”

Written by Arianne Cohen

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