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Measurement of physical activity in clinical practice and research: advances in cancer and chronic respiratory disease

Maddocks, Matthewa; Granger, Catherine L.b,c

Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care: September 2018 - Volume 12 - Issue 3 - p 219–226
doi: 10.1097/SPC.0000000000000372
RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS: Edited by David C. Currow and Miriam J. Johnson

Purpose of review Physical activity has emerged as an important health outcome and its assessment, in particular with objective monitors, has proliferated in recent years. This review considers recent advances in physical activity measurement and clinical trials in cancer and chronic respiratory diseases where physical activity was a primary or key secondary outcome focusing on methodological learning points.

Recent findings There is growing data on (i) the validity of commercial ‘consumer’ physical activity monitors, e.g. FitBit, and (ii) the role of hybrid physical activity assessments; combining objective and subjective measures to understand physical activity quantity and quality. In both cases, adherence is challenging and can be optimized using short monitoring protocols, e.g., 3–4 days, and by providing clear instructions and support materials to participants. Studies in cancer and chronic respiratory disease have found mixed effects from physical activity interventions based on pedometers, behavior change techniques, online resources, and/or therapeutic nutrition. The most responsive physical activity outcomes and minimum clinically important differences are still to be understood.

Summary Physical activity measures provide an opportunity to detect changes in health behavior. However, measuring physical activity as a trial endpoint is challenging and focusing effort to ensure optimal participant compliance is important.

aKing's College London, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, London, UK

bDepartment of Physiotherapy, The University of Melbourne

cDepartment of Physiotherapy, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

Correspondence to Matthew Maddocks, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, King's College London, London SE5 9PJ, UK. Tel: +44 0 202 7848 5252; e-mail:

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