International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

Healthy behavior and memory self-reports in young, middle-aged, and older adults

Gary W. Smalla1 c1, Prabha Siddartha1, Linda M. Ercolia1, Stephen T. Chena1, David A. Merrilla1 and Fernando Torres-Gila2

a1 Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA

a2 Department of Public Policy, UCLA School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA


Background: Previous research has shown that healthy behaviors, such as regular physical exercise, a nutritious diet, and not smoking, are associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. However, less is known about the potential link between healthy behaviors and mild memory symptoms that may precede dementia in different age groups.

Methods: A daily telephone survey (Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index) of US residents yielded a random sample of 18,552 respondents ranging in age from 18 to 99 years, including 4,423 younger (age 18–39 years), 6,356 middle-aged (40–59 years), and 7,773 older (60–99 years) adults. The questionnaire included demographic information and the Healthy Behavior Index (questions on smoking, eating habits, and frequency of exercise). General linear models and logistic regressions were used in the analysis.

Results: Older adults were more likely to report healthy behaviors than were middle-aged and younger adults. Reports of memory problems increased with age (14% of younger, 22% of middle-aged, and 26% of older adults) and were inversely related to the Healthy Behavior Index. Reports of healthy eating were associated with better memory self-reports regardless of age, while not smoking was associated with better memory reports in the younger and middle-aged and reported regular exercise with better memory in the middle-aged and older groups.

Conclusions: These findings indicate a relationship between reports of healthy behaviors and better self-perceived memory abilities throughout adult life, suggesting that lifestyle behavior habits may protect brain health and possibly delay the onset of memory symptoms as people age.

(Received October 21 2012)

(Reviewed December 17 2012)

(Revised January 07 2013)

(Accepted January 13 2013)

(Online publication February 21 2013)

Key words:

  • healthy aging;
  • memory;
  • nutrition;
  • physical activity;
  • healthy behavior;
  • telephone survey;
  • lifestyle habits


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Gary W. Small, Semel Institute, Suite 38-251, 760 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Phone: +1 310-825-0291; Fax: +1 310-825-3910. Email: