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Measurement of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour

The Centre has compiled information that is relevant to the measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour. The following are summarized below:

If you have any further questions about the measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour, please contact the Centre at [email protected].


Definitions of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour

Physical Activity: Any body movement produced by the skeletal muscles that results in a substantial increase over resting energy expenditure (Bouchard & Shepard, 1994).

The following are from the Sedentary Behaviour Research Network (2017):

Physical Inactivity: An insufficient physical activity level to meet present physical activity recommendations.

Sedentary Behaviour: Sedentary behaviour is any waking behaviour characterized by an energy expenditure ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs*), while in a sitting, reclining, or lying posture.

Stationary Behaviour: Stationary behaviour refers to any waking behaviour done while lying, reclining, sitting, or standing, with no ambulation, irrespective of energy expenditure.

Standing: A position in which one has or is maintaining an upright position while supported by one’s feet.

Screen Time: Screen time refers to the time spent on screen-based behaviours. These behaviours can be performed while being sedentary or physically active.

Non-Screen-Based Sedentary Time: Non-screen-based sedentary time refers to the time spent in sedentary behaviours that do not involve the use of screens.

Sitting: A position in which one’s weight is supported by one’s buttocks rather than one’s feet, and in which one’s back is upright.

Reclining: Reclining is a body position between sitting and lying.

Lying: Lying refers to being in a horizontal position on a supporting surface.

Sedentary Behaviour Pattern: The manner in which sedentary behaviour is accumulated throughout the day or week while awake (e.g., the timing, duration, and frequency of sedentary bouts and breaks).

For more information about these definitions, see our WellSpring, October 2017 issue.


Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines

Physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines describe the amount and types of physical activity that offer substantial health, fitness or developmental benefits for Canadians. Below is a brief description of the document and link to the complete resource guideline.

Guidelines for the Early Years (0 to 4 years)

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years 0-4 For growth and development:

  • Infants (aged less than 1 year) should be physically active several times daily – particularly through interactive floor-based play.
  • Toddlers (aged 1-2 years) and preschoolers (aged 3-4 years) should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day.

    (Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years 0 - 4, PDF)

Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years 0-4

  • Caregivers should minimize the time infants (aged less than 1 year), toddlers (aged 1-2 years) and preschoolers (aged 3-4 years) spend being sedentary during waking hours. This includes prolonged sitting or being restrained (e.g., stroller, high chair) for more than one hour at a time.

    (Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years 0 - 4, PDF)

24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth

Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth

For health benefits:

Guidelines for Adults (18 to 64 years)

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults - 18 to 64 years For health benefits:

Guidelines for Older Adults (65 years and older)

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults - 65 years and olderFor health benefits and improve functional abilities:

Guidelines for Adults with Multiple Sclerosis

Guidelines for Adults with Multiple SclerosisTo achieve fitness benefits, adults aged 18-65 years with multiple sclerosis who have mild to moderate disability need at least:

Guidelines for Adults with Spinal Cord Injury

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults with Spinal Cord Injury To achieve fitness benefits, adults with a spinal cord injury should engage in:

Physical Activity and Parkinson's Disease

Physical Activity and Parkinson's DiseaseFollowing the guidelines for the adults, people diagnosed with Parkinson's should engage in aerobic activity, along with other activities for strength, flexibility and balance.

Physical activity can help improve Parkinson’s symptoms and sense of well-being.

( Physical Activity and Parkinson's Disease, PDF)

 

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Assessing Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour

When determining the most suitable methods of assessing physical activity and sedentary behaviour for health promotion efforts the following factors should be considered:

  1. purpose of the assessment,
  2. target population,
  3. components of physical activity and sedentary behaviour being measured,
  4. practicality of the measurement tool,
  5. participant burden, and
  6. reliability and validity of the tool being used.

1. Purpose of the Assessment

The measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour has many different uses in health promotion, including the following:

  • conducting epidemiological research, to understand the relationship between physical activity and a range of outcomes, (Note: epidemiology examines the distribution and determinants of health related states or events),
  • monitoring physical activity levels in specific populations,
  • understanding the correlates and determinants of physical activity,
  • measuring the impact and effectiveness of health promotion programs designed to increase physical activity or decrease sedentary behaviour,
  • developing strong evidence for broad initiatives in health promotion policy and practice (Bauman, Phongsavan, Schoeppe, & Owen, 2006),
  • identifying the purpose of the physical activity and sedentary behaviour measurement is a first step.

2. Target Population

Different assessment tools have been developed and validated for different target audiences. The method you choose to measure physical activity must take into consideration the population.

  • Pre-schoolers
  • Children and youth
  • Older adults
  • Culturally diverse populations
  • People with chronic diseases
  • General adult population

3. Measureable Components of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour

Physical activity and sedentary behaviour measurement can assess different aspects which include the frequency, intensity, amount, type and setting of activity.

Frequency

Frequency: “How often is physical activity undertaken?”
Physical activity and sedentary behaviour are measured across a pre-determined time frame. For example: over the next day, week, month; or over the past day, week, 2-weeks, month, etc.

Intensity

Intensity: A range of intensities include sedentary, light, moderate and vigorous activities.
Intensity can be assessed based on:

  • Self-perceived intensity (Borg scale; Borg, 1982)
  • Energy expenditure values (METs)
  • Heart rate or heart rate reserve

Amount

Amount: The duration of physical activity or sedentary behaviour over a session.
This can be expressed as the amount of time, distance, or steps over a specific time frame. This can be reported as an average or total amount.

Type

Type: The kind of activity one is participating in.
This is categorized according to:

  • Specific activity (i.e., TV viewing, walking, ice hockey, cleaning windows etc.)
  • Category of activity (i.e., exercise, sport, active commuting, sitting, etc.)
  • Intensity of the activity (sedentary, light, moderate, vigorous)

Domains

Domains: This describes the location or setting where the activity is carried out.
Examples of domains include:

  • Leisure
  • Occupational
  • School
  • Domestic
  • Transportation
  • Incidental

4. Practicality of the Measurement Tool

Practicality refers to the issues associated with the development, administration, scoring, and ongoing administration of an assessment.

These issues typically address resources, cost, expertise, and time needed to develop, administer and maintain the instrument or device. As depicted in the figure below, self-report physical activity measures are the most practical and observation methods are generally the least practical.

Practicality of the Measurement Tool

5. Participant Burden

Considerations for the participant include:

  • Number of questions, for example 1 vs. 27
  • Difficulty of question, device or log book
  • Proxy completion (parents for young children)
  • Device ability to work correctly (e. g. pedometer)

6. Reliability and Validity of the Tool

Reliability: reflects the stability of the tool to measure the same concept over time (i.e., vigorous physical activity).
Validity: describes how well the measurement tool assesses what it is intended to assess.

Examine possible sources of error, such as:

  • Accelerometer/pedometer = inability to measure certain activity
  • Self-report = recall bias, seasonal variation

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Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Assessment Tools

1. Godin Leisure Time Questionnaire
The Godin Leisure Time Questionnaire (GLTEQ) is a self-report measure of the frequency of light-intensity, moderate-intensity, and vigorous-intensity leisure-time physical activity. Weekly MET values can be estimated by following the Godin and Shepard (1997) calculations.

  • Target population: Adults; 18 to 65 years
  • Burden: 4 questions; 7-day recall of leisure-time physical activity
  • Validity: Construct validity is supported via predictive, concurrent, and convergent validity evidence.
  • Reliability: Acceptable to strong test re-test reliability (1 week)

Reference
* Godin, G., Shephard, R. J. (1997). Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29, S36-S38.

2. International Physical Activity Questionnaire (long-form)
The long-form of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) is a self-report measure of physical activity and sitting time. The frequency and duration of sitting, walking, moderate-intensity, and vigorous-intensity physical activity across the domains of leisure-time, domestic activities, work-related activities and transportation are assessed. Estimates of domain specific physical activity in MET-min/week, total physical activity in MET-min/week, and time spent sitting can be measured using the IPAQ long-form.

  • Target population: Adolescents and adults; 15 to 69 years
  • Burden: 27 questions; 7-day recall of time spent sitting and participating in different intensities of physical activity for work, household activities, transportation, and leisure
  • Validity: Construct validity is supported via predictive, criterion, concurrent, and convergent validity evidence
  • Reliability: Adequate to strong test-retest reliability (3 to 7 day and 14 to 21 days)
Reference

International Physical Activity Questionnaire. (2005). Guidelines for Data Processing and Analysis of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ): Short and Long Forms. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/theipaq/scoring-protocol.

3. International Physical Activity Questionnaire (short-form)
The short-form of the IPAQ is a self-report measure of physical activity and sitting time. Self-reported frequency and duration of sitting, walking, moderate-intensity, and vigorous-intensity physical activity across the domains of leisure-time, domestic activities, work-related activities and transportation are considered to estimate total physical activity in MET-min/week and time spent sitting.

  • Target population: Adolescents and adults; 15 to 69 years
  • Burden: 7 questions, 7-day recall of time spent sitting and participating in different intensities of physical activity for work, household activities, transportation and leisure Validity: Construct validity is supported via predictive, criterion, concurrent and convergent validity evidence
    Reliability: Acceptable to strong test re-test reliability (1 week)
Reference

International Physical Activity Questionnaire. (2005). Guidelines for Data Processing and Analysis of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ): Short and Long Forms. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/theipaq/scoring-protocol.

4. Sedentary Behaviour Questionnaire
The Sedentary Behaviour Questionnaire (SBQ) is a self-report measure of time spent in sedentary behaviour during a typical week. The SBQ assesses nine types of sedentary activities including: watching television, playing computer/video games, sitting while listening to music, sitting and talking on the phone, doing paperwork or office work, sitting and reading, playing a musical instrument, doing arts and crafts, and sitting and driving/riding in a car, bus or train on weekdays and weekends.

  • Target Population: Adults; 18 to 65 years
  • Burden: 18 questions; identify time typically spent in sedentary behaviour
  • Validity: Construct validity is supported via criterion, concurrent and convergent validity evidence
  • Reliability: Acceptable to strong test re-test reliability (2 weeks)

Reference
* Rosenberg, D. E., Norman, G. J., Wagner, N., Patrick, K., Calfas, K. J. & Sallis, J. F. (2010). Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 7, 697-705

Steps/day scale schematic linked to time spent in MVPA

5. Pedometer

Pedometers are small gadgets used to objectively measure steps or footfalls. Steps can be measured intermittently or continuously over the day.

The number of steps equivalent to the minimal amount of daily physical activity have been estimated as:

  • 13,000 to 15,000 steps/day for boys; 11,000-12,000 steps/day for girls
  • 10,000 to 11,700 steps/day for adolescents
  • 7,000 to 8,000 steps/day for adults (varies according to age, sex and health status)

Steps/day scale schematic linked to time spent in MVPA.
Tudor-Locke et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011 8:79 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-79
Download authors' original image (PDF)

Pedometers are not accurate when used for activities that do not involve footfalls such as swimming or upper body movement (e.g., weight–lifting, biking, or household activities). Additionally, measurement accuracy is poor among people with slow or unsteady gait and who are obese (the pedometer needs to be perpendicular to the ground to work accurately).

  • Target population: Children, adolescent, and adults; 6 to 75 years
  • Burden: relative low cost ($15 to $50), practical, and easy to interpret
  • Validity: Construct validity is supported via criterion, concurrent and convergent validity evidence for Digi-walker, Yamax, and New Lifestyles pedometers. (Note: piezo-pedometers may be more appropriate than spring-levered instruments for use in obese individuals.)
  • Reliability: Acceptable to strong test re-test reliability (1 week)

References
1. Tudor-Locke, C., Craig, C. L., Beets, M.W., Belton, S., Cardon, G. M., Duncan, S., Hatano, Y., … Blair, S. N. (2011). How many steps/day are enough? For children and adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8, 78. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-78 http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/8/1/78
2. Tudor-Locke, C., Craig, C. L., Brown, W. J., Clemes, S. A., De Cocker, K., Giles-Corti, B., Hatano, Y., … Blair, S. N. (2011). How many steps/day are enough? For adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8, 79. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-79 http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/8/1/79 3. Crouter, S. E., Schneider, P. L., & Bassett, D. R. (2005). Spring-levered versus piezo-electric pedometer accuracy in overweight and obese adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 37, 1673-1679.
4. UWALK pedometers
5. Pedometer information sheet for adults (PDF, 4 pgs)
6. Pedometer information sheet for children and youth (PDF, 4 pgs)

6. Accelerometer
An accelerometer is a small device that can objectively measure “real time” minute-by-minute steps and activity counts by measuring acceleration over an axis. The raw activity counts from the accelerometer can be transformed to identify time spent in sedentary behaviour and physical activity. A key feature of the accelerometer is the ability to distinguish between different intensities of movement such as walking and running. Multi-axis accelerometers measure acceleration over multiple planes to assess movements such as stair climbing.

Before using an accelerometer for an intervention or monitoring, a few decisions concerning data collection and scoring need to be made.

1) Participants should wear the accelerometer for a minimum of 5 to 7 days.
2) Participants should be asked to wear the accelerometer for their wake time, time at school or work, or for the whole day and night.
3) The cut-points for intensity of activities vary according to age, gender, functional levels and the type of accelerometer being worn. Freedson, Melanson, and Sirand (1998) cut-points are commonly used for adults wearing the Actigraph accelerometer. Many other cut-points exist.

Interpreting data from accelerometers can be challenging and varies according to age, gender, functional levels, health status and the type of accelerometer being used. Since accelerometers measure acceleration, they cannot measure stationary physical activities (e.g., stationary bike riding, elliptical training) and under estimate upper body physical activities (e.g., housework).

  • Target population: Children to older adults; 6 to 75 years
  • Burden: measures multiple days with low burden to participant; developing a monitoring and analysis plan is complex; accelerometers are costly tool ($225 to $375)
  • Validity: Construct validity is supported via criterion, predictive, concurrent and convergent validity evidence.
  • Reliability: Acceptable to strong test re-test reliability (1 week)

References
1. Freedson, P. S., Melanson, E., & Sirand, J. (1998). Calibration of the computer science and applications, inc. accelerometer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30, 777-781.
2. Cain, Kelli L. & Geremia Carrie M. (2011). Accelerometer Data Collection and Scoring Manual For Adult & Senior Studies. San Diego State University, San Diego, CA. Retrieved from http://sallis.ucsd.edu/Documents/Measures_documents/Accelerometer _Data_Collection_and_Scoring_Manual_Updated_June2012.pdf


Sources

The information on this page were collected from the following sources:

  • Bauman, A., Phongsvan, P., Schoeppe, S., & Owen, N. (2006). Physical activity measurement – a primer for health promotion. Promotion Education, 13, 92-103. doi:10.1177/10253823060130020103
  • Borg G.A. Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1982; 14:377-381.
  • CSEP (2014). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (all ages) Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (0-17 years). Retrieved from http://www.csep.ca/english/view.asp?x=890
  • Godin, G., Shephard, R. J. (1997) Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 29 June Supplement: S36-S38.
  • Sedentary Behaviour Research Network. (2012). Letter to the Editor: Standardized use of the terms “sedentary” and “sedentary behaviour”. Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism, 37, 540-542. doi:10.1139/H2012-024

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