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Developing an inventory of physical activity measures

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The range of physical activity measures available in the CLOSER longitudinal studies have allowed studies to pursue a diversity of research questions. Several studies have sought to quantify physical activity levels in the studies to estimate broader trends in the UK population. For example, findings have been used to suggest that just half of UK children are achieving national physical activity guidelines [83] and physical activity in older adults is generally low [84, 85]. Other studies have used the data to characterise changes in activity patterns over time [86] or clustering of physical activity with other health behaviours [87]. Some studies have identified early life factors that are associated with physical activity engagement in later life, such as coordination and motor control or institutional care [88, 89]. Other studies have used this data to investigate the associations of physical activity with health-related outcomes such as body composition [90], cognitive decline [93] depression, [92] and frailty [91].

In order to provide an overview of the measures of physical activity available in the longitudinal studies it was necessary to systematically search all available data collections via original questionnaires. Measures were recorded on a spreadsheet, noting the study, sweep, year, age of study member, subject, informant, administrator, data collection method, questionnaire, question, response scale, physical activity domain, and whether it captured frequency, duration, and/or intensity. Since we identified physical activity variables by manually checking available questionnaires from each study, variables subsequently derived were not included.

This guide includes multiple measures of physical activity. These are categorised where possible into leisure time, occupational, active travel, and domestic domains. Physical activity measures were included if they reported frequency, duration, and/or intensity of activity. We also include measures of sedentary behaviour (e.g. time spent watching TV). Data included in this iteration of the guide is from completed data collection sweeps up to November 2022, where the data has been released (i.e. measures used in subsequent sweeps were not included).

Additionally, to retain a manageable scope any non-core sweeps (e.g. innovation panels and feasibility studies) were excluded; however, COVID-19 waves were included. Furthermore, measures were excluded if they were about anyone other than the main study member (e.g. mothers in ALSPAC), contained physical activity preferences, or questions regarding fatigue following physical activity. Additionally, we excluded ambiguous activities that may also be categorised as sedentary behaviour such as listening to the radio (as participants could potentially also be physically active). Activities such as reading for pleasure and drawing were not counted as sedentary.

This guide identifies and describes measures of physical activity that are similar both within and across studies. This can help facilitate future cross-study comparative research. All measures of physical activity identified are available in the searchable electronic appendix that accompanies this guide. This appendix (a complete index of the measures available as of the time of writing) can be downloaded and then filtered and sorted on different characteristics of the measures or their administration, including study, year, sweep, respondent, activity domain, and subdomain, and whether frequency, duration and intensity of the activity was ascertained. Original variable names are included so data users may easily find these variables within datasets. Measures are coded (‘Yes’/‘No’) in terms of whether intensity, duration, and frequency were ascertained.

In the links below, each of the studies are introduced and a summary of the physical activity measures for each respective study is provided. Additional sections (again linked below) focus on opportunities for comparison across studies, exploring each of the main domains of physical activity.

Learn more about the individual studies covered by this guide and their measurement of physical activity:

Explore the measures by physical activity domain and their cross-study comparability:

Further information:

This page is part of the CLOSER resource: ‘Physical activity across age and study: a guide to data in six CLOSER studies’.