AARP Research

2016 Survey on Healthy Behaviors and Well-Being

AARP conducted a survey among adults age 18+ to understand the link between healthy behaviors and mental well-being. This study also sought to determine what motivates engagement in brain-healthy behaviors and which behaviors they are likely to adopt.

Key findings include:

  • Mental well-being scores increase with age.  Those age 54 and older have higher than average mental well-being scores (assessed on the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale). Mental well-being is low during middle age but, after midlife, it markedly improves.

  • Managing stress effectively and pursuing a purpose in life are the two activities most closely-associated with mental well-being. Socializing with friends and family, learning new things, getting enough sleep, reading, and eating a healthy diet, are also consistently linked to mental well-being.

  • The more brain healthy activities an adult engages in, the higher their mental well-being. Conversely, failing to engage in healthy behaviors (e.g. socializing, managing stress effectively, exercise and diet, etc.) is linked to below average mental well-being scores.

  • There is a general desire to maintain brain health driven mainly by personal motivations of independence and ongoing personal achievement/enjoyment of life. “Maintaining independence” and “maintaining overall health” are the two most-cited motivators for maintaining brain health.

  • Most adults believe they can improve brain health. Eight in 10 Americans say behaviors can improve brain health and 7 in 10 say they engage in such behaviors.

  • Those not engaging in brain-healthy behaviors often cite a lack of time or a lack of knowledge about which behaviors are brain-healthy as the reason for failing to do so.

  • Limiting alcohol is what the largest percentage of adults say they would do for the sake of their brain health. Other activities they would engage in include reading, various forms of increased physical activity, and prayer. Likelihood to engage in these top activities increases with age and personal experience (e.g., those knowing someone with dementia).

Interviews were conducted online among 1,609 adults age 18+ using GFK’s Knowledge Panel from March 11-17, 2016.  Additional interviews were conducted among African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian adults age 18+. The data is weighted to reflect Current Population Survey and American Community Survey benchmarks.  For more information, contact Chuck Rainville at or (202) 434-6295. For media inquiries, contact Greg Phillips at or (202) 434-2544.

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