Health behavior change following chronic illness in middle and later life

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012 May;67(3):279-88. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr103. Epub 2011 Oct 9.


Objectives: Understanding lifestyle improvements among individuals with chronic illness is vital for targeting interventions that can increase longevity and improve quality of life.

Methods: Data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study were used to examine changes in smoking, alcohol use, and exercise 2-14 years after a diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, or lung disease.

Results: Patterns of behavior change following diagnosis indicated that the vast majority of individuals diagnosed with a new chronic condition did not adopt healthier behaviors. Smoking cessation among those with heart disease was the largest observed change, but only 40% of smokers quit. There were no significant increases in exercise for any health condition. Changes in alcohol consumption were small, with significant declines in excessive drinking and increases in abstention for a few health conditions. Over the long term, individuals who made changes appeared to maintain those changes. Latent growth curve analyses up to 14 years after diagnosis showed no average long-term improvement in health behaviors.

Discussion: Results provide important new information on health behavior changes among those with chronic disease and suggest that intensive efforts are required to help initiate and maintain lifestyle improvements among this population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / psychology
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Heart Diseases / psychology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lung Diseases / psychology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Stroke / psychology
  • Time Factors