Healthy behaviours could play a vital protective role in mental health

With an estimated 1 in 10 people in Ireland that have suffered from depression, it has been suggested that certain protective lifestyle behaviours such as having a healthy diet, being physically active, having a moderate alcohol intake and being a non-smoker, may be linked to positive mental health.

Gillian Maher, UCC public health researcher, analysed data from over 2,000 people aged between 50 and 67 from North Cork as part of the Mitchelstown Cohort Study and found that people with more protective lifestyle behaviours (PLBs) had lower odds of having depressive symptoms. The cross-sectional study used the following PLBs: being a non-smoker, moderate alcohol consumption, being physically active and eating an adequate diet of fruit and vegetables.

The study, published in the prestigious Cambridge Journal of Public Health Nutrition, found that overall 8% of people in the sample engaged in one protective lifestyle behaviour, 24% in two, 39% in three and just over 28% of all sampled engaged in four PLBs. The low numbers of people practising all four protective behaviours highlights the need for continued emphasis on encouraging and empowering people to make positive lifestyle behaviour choices.

Applying this research into our daily behaviours around health and wellbeing, Ms Gillian Maher stresses that “it is not an all or nothing approach” and that “one is better than none, two is better than one etc” making the strong case that we should all engage in PLB as best as we can as any engagement is positive news for your mental health, and adds to our overall health.


Key Findings:

The odds of having depressive symptoms for those who engage in one or less PLBs, are over twice as high as those who engage in four PLBs, even after adjusting for age, gender, education and BMI.

Only 28% of this population (50–69-year-olds) engage in four PLB.

Those who engaged in all four PLB were more likely to be female, have a higher level of education, and were categorised as having no depressive symptoms.


The sample was randomly selected from the Livinghealth Clinic in Mitchelstown with a catchment area of over 20,000 people. The cohort study was originally the Cork and Kerry Diabetes and Heart Disease Study which began in 1998.  The main aim of the study was to estimate the prevalence of major risk factors in a middle-aged population in Ireland and to estimate the number of people at high risk of heart disease. Phase II of the Cork and Kerry Diabetes and Heart Disease Study began in 2008, with support from the Health Research Board Centre for Health and Diet Research.

Since beginning, it has produced over 25 publications on topics that range from diabetes to cardiovascular disease and from disability to macrocytosis (or the measure of average volume of red blood cells). Ms. Maher’s study adds an additional dynamic of mental health to the knowledge generated from this study.

Many thanks go out to all those involved in the study, in particular the people of Mitchelstown and beyond who contributed selflessly to the richness of the ongoing study, and to the staff at the Livinghealth Clinic.


More info on the Mitchelstown Cohort Study can be found here

Mitchelstown Cohort Study publications

Mitchelstown Cohort in the news

Requests for more information: or 021 4205505


Gillian Maher presenting at SPHeRE Conference

Subscribe to our mailing list