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Maintaining Healthy Behavior: a Prospective Study of Psychological Well-Being and Physical Activity



Although higher psychological well-being has been linked with a range of positive biological processes and health outcomes, the prospective association between psychological well-being and physical activity among older adults has been understudied.


We tested whether higher baseline psychological well-being predicted higher levels of physical activity over time.


Prospective data were from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, a nationally representative sample of English adults over the age of 50. Our sample included 9986 adults who were assessed up to six times across an average of 11 years.


After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, each standard deviation increase in baseline psychological well-being was associated with higher median physical activity in linear regression models that examined physical activity across all six waves (β = 0.20; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.18–0.21) and in linear mixed effect models that examined repeated measures of physical activity over the entire follow-up period (β = 0.20; 95% CI 0.19–0.21). Further, higher baseline psychological well-being was associated with a slower rate of decline in physical activity among people who were active at baseline (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.79, 95% CI 0.76–0.82) and increasing physical activity among people who were inactive at baseline (HR = 1.28, 95% CI 1.22–1.35). Findings were maintained after adjusting for baseline health status and depression.


Psychological well-being was independently associated with attaining and maintaining higher physical activity levels over 11 years, suggesting that it may be a valuable target for interventions aimed at helping older adults acquire more physical activity.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric S. Kim PhD.

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Authors’ Statement of Conflict of Interest and Adherence to Ethical Standards

Eric Kim has worked as a consultant with AARP/Life Reimagined on an unrelated project. All procedures, including the informed consent process, were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000.


This study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (R03AG046342) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (T32 HL 098048) of the National Institutes of Health. Funding for the English Longitudinal Study of Aging is provided by the National Institute of Aging (2RO1AG7644-01A1 and 2RO1AG017644) and a consortium of UK government departments coordinated by the Office for National Statistics.

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Kim, E.S., Kubzansky, L.D., Soo, J. et al. Maintaining Healthy Behavior: a Prospective Study of Psychological Well-Being and Physical Activity. ann. behav. med. 51, 337–347 (2017).

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  • Psychological well-being
  • Physical activity
  • Exercise
  • Epidemiology
  • Health psychology