Lifestyle risk factors for obsessive-compulsive symptoms and related phenomena: What should lifestyle interventions target?

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2023 Mar;57(3):379-390. doi: 10.1177/00048674221085923. Epub 2022 Apr 1.


Objective: Understanding the impact of lifestyle on mental illness symptoms is important for informing psycho-education and developing interventions which target mental and physical comorbidities. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders can have a significant impact on health-related quality of life and physical health. However, our understanding of the impact of lifestyle on obsessive-compulsive symptoms and broader compulsive and impulsive problematic repetitive behaviours is limited.

Aims: We investigated whether lifestyle factors predicted change in obsessive-compulsive symptoms and problematic repetitive behaviours in a general population sample over a 3-month period.

Methods: Eight hundred thirty-five participants completed an online questionnaire battery assessing lifestyle and mental health. Of these, 538 participants completed the same battery 3 months later. We conducted negative binomial regressions to analyse the association of lifestyle factors at baseline with future (1) obsessive-compulsive symptoms, (2) compulsive problematic repetitive behaviours and (3) impulsive problematic repetitive behaviours, adjusting for baseline obsessive-compulsive symptoms and problematic repetitive behaviours.

Results: Lower vegetable (p = 0.020) and oily fish (p = 0.040) intake and lower moderate intensity physical activity (p = 0.008) predicted higher obsessive-compulsive symptoms at follow-up. Higher intake of high-fat foods (p < 0.001) predicted higher compulsive problematic repetitive behaviours at follow-up. No lifestyle factors significantly predicted impulsive problematic repetitive behaviours at follow-up.

Conclusion: Our results speak to the potential importance of lifestyle quality screening, education and lifestyle interventions (e.g. an anti-inflammatory diet) for individuals experiencing compulsivity-related behaviours and/or symptoms. Further research into potential mechanisms of action will allow for more targeted approaches to lifestyle interventions for transdiagnostic compulsive behaviours.

Keywords: Obsessive-compulsive; compulsive; diet; impulsive; lifestyle.

MeSH terms

  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors