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Making lifestyle changes can be as effective as drugs at treating depression and other mental health disorders, according to a study by Roger Walsh, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.

In a new paper published in American Psychologist (February 2011), Walsh examined the impact of lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthier eating, improving relationships, making more time for rest and relaxation, and spending time in nature. These shifts offer significant advantages for patients, he notes, but “they’re insufficiently appreciated, taught or utilized.”

Among the advantages Walsh found: Exercise reduces anxiety and depression; vegetable-rich diets with a balance of healthy fats improve cognitive functions; acts of service can boost mood and may even lengthen lifespan; recreation reduces feelings of defensiveness.

Walsh notes that one of the main barriers to adopting such changes is the “passive expectation that healing comes from an outside authority or a pill” — something he hopes these findings will combat. (For more info on this topic, search for “A Path out of Depression.”)

 

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