HealthDay News — Physical activity should be considered a vital health measurement and tracked regularly over time like other modifiable cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking and diabetes status, according to new guidelines from the American Heart Association.

“The deleterious effects of physical inactivity are associated with many of the most common chronic diseases and conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, depression, and breast and colorectal cancers,” Scott J. Strath, PhD, chair of the AHA’s Physical Activity Committee and colleagues wrote in a scientific statement published in Circulation. “Risk identification, benchmarks, efficacy and evaluation of physical activity behavior change initiatives for clinicians and researchers all require a clear understanding of how to assess physical activity.”

They reviewed the available options for physical activity assessment and presented a decision matrix as a tool clinicians and researchers can use to select the best method for any given clinical scenario.

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Physical activity comprises four dimensions — mode or type, frequency, duration and intensity — and four domains, including occupational, domestic, transportation and leisure, all of which must be taken into account, the researchers noted.

Current methods for assessing physical activity are either subjective (self-report based on questionnaires or physical activity diaries) or objective (using measures of energy expenditure, physiological measures, or motion sensors).

The decision matrix takes these factors into account and employes a systematic approach that hinges on individualized primary outcomes. Before using the matrix, clinicians must first identify specific outcome measures for each patient or patient population. The decision making process then consists of the following components:

  • Understanding the dimensions of physical activity that need to be measured to capture the desired outcome.
  • Determining how the data will be used and quantified to answer the question at hand, as the level of accuracy required will vary in different settings (clinical, research or public health)
  • Differentiating between different available methods based on resource availability, processing requirements and theneed to provide immediate feedback to patients/participants.

The matrix also provides tools for comparing the characteristics, features and the strengths and limitations  assessment options, including questionnaires, diaries, observation, indirect calorimetry, accelerometers, pedometers and multisensing units.

“In summary, physical activity assessment should be considered a vital health measure that is tracked regularly over time,” Strath and colleagues wrote. “The present scientific statement provides a guide to allow professionals to make a goal-specific selection of a meaningful physical activity assessment method.”


  1. Strath SJ et al. Circulation. 2013; doi:10.1161/01.cir.0000435708.67487.da.