Measure of Physical Activity for Health Promotion and Education Research

Adam Knowlden


Objectives: Accurate and reliable measurement of physical activity (PA) is critical for accuracy of health education and promotion research and evaluation. In terms of research, PA measurement allows researchers to model the correlates and determinants of PA. From an evaluation perspective, measurement allows researchers to gauge the efficacy of interventions designed to increase or sustain PA. A variety of direct and indirect PA monitoring methods are available to researchers and practitioners. The purpose of this research was to review methods of measuring physical activity over time and identify best practices for application. Methods: A total of 21 articles were extracted from Medline, CINHAL, and ERIC databases for this review. Monitoring techniques analyzed included doubly labeled water, indirect calorimetry, motion sensors, global positioning system, global geographic information systems, heart rate monitors, direct observation, activity logs, and self-report questionnaires. Strengths and limitations, application, cost of the data collection, and the accuracy of the resulting data was elucidated. Results: PA is an important domain of health promotion and health education research. Accurate and reliable measurement of PA is critical to increasing the internal validity of health education interventions. Conclusions: Ultimately, the research questions that underlie a research project should determine the measurement tool researchers apply. In making a final decision, expertise, resources, and funding of the program must be considered. Even the most advanced monitoring tools have limitations. Researchers must be cognizant of the limitations of the measurement techniques they apply and make efforts to reduce biases associated with their selected measurement method.


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CIAFEL, Research Centre in Physical Activity, Health and Leisure