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Physical activity measurement: Objective and outline of this guide

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Physical activity has an important role to play in addressing two of the most important public health challenges of modern times: the rising prevalence of obesity [1-3] and population ageing [4, 5]. Over 60 years, compelling research evidence has been accrued, demonstrating physical activity’s myriad health benefits [6, 7]. More recently, evidence has also highlighted the adverse health consequences of sedentary behaviour [8].

Longitudinal studies are a valuable resource and many have measured physical activity. This project utilises data from six CLOSER partner studies to identify all measures of physical activity and sedentary behaviour available within each study, document these, and indicate possibilities for harmonisation. The studies are

  • MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD)
  • National Child Development Study (NCDS)
  • 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70)
  • Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)
  • Millennium Cohort Study (MCS)
  • Understanding Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS)

More details on each of the cohorts, including cohort profiles and guidance on accessing the data, can be found on the CLOSER study pages.

This guide will be structured in the following way. First, the concept of physical activity is defined and its application in research outlined, including a literature review of the key domains of physical activity in relation to various health outcomes. Examples of the use of CLOSER longitudinal data in examining physical activity are provided. Next, each of the CLOSER studies included in this project are outlined and an overview of their measurement of physical activity presented. The next section describes and discusses the potential for cross-study comparability in the different domains of physical activity. The searchable electronic appendix provides detailed documentation on all measures of physical activity described in this guide. Overall, this guide is intended to be a helpful resource which future researchers can both utilise and build upon.

This guide focuses on self-reported measures of physical activity, as these are most commonly ascertained. However, we have documented the objective measures that are available in each study and the relevant sweeps.

Versions and Updates

Version 2

This version was updated in March 2023 by the CLOSER team. It includes additional information from the following study sweeps in the guide and electronic index:

  • ALSPAC: COVID-19 Questionnaires 1, 2, and 4 (2020-21); accelerometry data
  • BCS70: Sweep 10, Age 46, including accelerometery data (2016)
  • MCS: Sweep 7, Age 17 (2018); accelerometry data from Sweep 4, Age 7 (2008) and Sweep 6, Age 14 (2015)
  • NSHD: actigraphy data (Age 60-64, 2008-2010) & accelerometry data (Age 69, 2015)
  • NSHD, NCDS, BCS70, MCS: COVID-19 waves 1, 2, and 3 (2020-21)
  • UKHLS: Wave 11, Wave 12, and COVID-19 Waves 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Go to the next section: ‘Physical activity measurement: Definitions and scientific importance’


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’.