How Seven Habits Boost Brain Function and Lower Depression Risk

Andy Hab
3 min readSep 21

You’ve written before on healthy habits and improved brain function and decreased risk of brain degeneration — how is this research different?

Indeed, the themes keep repeating themselves. Be that risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, aging, cognitive function, and in this latest publication depression.

But what is important is that they all provide another piece of evidence to give a compelling and comprehensive view of healthy habits. What’s more this paper also goes into the specific mechanisms and tries to untangle genetic influences as well.

As mentioned the focus is on depression, but it could also be multiple other areas of cognitive dysfunction or degeneration.

Of note also is that the study analysed data in what is called the UK Biobank — that’s a massive database which includes genetic data, brain scanning data, and blood analysis amongst others. They analysed data from about 290’000 people!

So what was that about genetic influence? Are some of us predisposed to become depressed?

Well, of course. We are all part of the genetic lottery which puts us at more, or less, risk of just about everything that can happen to us. They key question to answer is whether genetics plays a larger role than lifestyle factors.

And does it?


And that is very good news — the researchers from the University of Cambridge noted that genetic factors can reduce risk of depression by about 25%. But that lifestyle factors could contribute to a risk reduction of about 57%. That’s more than double the genetic moderation factor.

So lifestyle accounts for a lot.

And I’m now intrigued. What are these seven lifestyle factors?

They were these in order for lowest to highest impact:

  • healthy diet (6%)
  • moderate alcohol consumption (11%)
  • low-to-moderate sedentary behaviour (13%)
  • regular physical activity (14%)
  • frequent social connection (18%)
  • never smoking (20%)
  • healthy sleep (22%)
Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!