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Discrepancies between Methods of Identifying Objectively Determined Physical Activity


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 1 - p 52-58
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000235886.17229.42
BASIC SCIENCES: Epidemiology

Current methods for validating physical activity (PA) questionnaires typically use accelerometers as objective measures for comparison with questionnaire responses and obtain low correlations or agreement.

Purpose: We examined possible reasons for weak associations in validation studies by comparing published ActiGraph accelerometer intensity cut points with cut points based on intensity thresholds for heart rate response to PA.

Methods: Twelve adults (five men, seven women; age 31.0 ± 14.3 yr) wore an ActiGraph accelerometer and a Polar Vantage NV heart watch simultaneously for seven consecutive days during their waking hours. We identified PA bouts from the minute-by-minute ActiGraph data using published accelerometer thresholds for defining moderate- and vigorous-intensity PA. We then compared PA bout intensities identified with these criteria with intensity classifications of the PA bouts using mean percent heart rate reserve (HRR).

Results: Most of the moderate-intensity PA bouts identified by the Freedson (78.3%), Swartz (88.0%), and Hendelman (94.7%) ActiGraph cut points were associated with a mean %HRR < 45% (very light and light intensities). The estimated mean frequency with which study participants engaged in moderate-intensity PA varied with the cut points and type of bouts used and ranged from 1.1 d·wk−1 (45-60%HRR) to 7.0 d·wk−1 (Hendelman cut points). The mean total duration on active days ranged from 17.9 min·d−1 (45-60%HRR) to 139.2 min·d−1 (Hendelman cut points). Fewer bouts of vigorous PA were found in the accelerometer data, and most were in the vigorous-intensity category of ≥ 60%HRR.

Conclusions: The method used for analyzing ActiGraph activity data can result in large differences in the summary measure of minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA; 2San Diego State University, San Diego, CA; 3University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI; and 4East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, and 5Arizona State University, Mesa, AZ

Address for correspondence: Sandra Ham, Health Statistician, Physical Activity and Health Branch, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, K-46, 4770 Buford Hwy, Atlanta, GA 30341; E-mail: or

Submitted for publication January 2006.

Accepted for publication July 2006.

©2007The American College of Sports Medicine