The recent study adds to ample evidence that healthy eating and physical activity can not only help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety but may also prevent them in the first place.
For example, a research review in Current Sports Medicine Reports looked at 49 studies encompassing nearly 267,000 participants and found people who maintained an exercise routine showed decreased onset of depression, and these results were consistent across numerous countries, as well as among people of all ages, from children to seniors.5
This study, and others like it, suggest physical activity can be a useful strategy not just for treating depression, but also for reducing prevalence in the first place, according to study co-author Felipe Barreto Schuch, PhD, in the department of sports techniques at the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria in Brazil.
“Unfortunately, thinking of exercise as a prevention or treatment option isn’t considered a high priority in many cultures,” he says. “That may be because there is still the perception of this as a chore, which can cause resistance and low motivation. Having the perspective of seeing activity as a source of joy may help many people take steps toward including it in their lives.”
In addition to psychological shifts like embracing delayed gratification and long-term happiness, it is well established that exercise can create physical changes that support those mood effects. For instance, Schuch says depression is often associated with loss of neurons in the brain, and exercise may help prevent this.5
Consumption of fruits and vegetables also gives a significant boost to the body and brain. A study in Social Science & Medicine titled “Lettuce Be Happy” found that eating just one extra portion of these foods per day could provide as much of a mental well-being shift as walking an extra 7-8 days a month.