Seasonal changes in ambient temperature and day length are thought to modify habitual physical activity. However, relationships between such environmental factors and the daily physical activity of older populations remain unclear. The present study thus examined associations between meteorological variables and the number of steps taken per day by elderly Japanese. Continuous pedometer counts over a 450-day period were collected from 41 healthy subjects (age 71+/-4 years), none of whom engaged in any specific occupational activity or exercise programs. An electronic physical activity monitor was attached to a belt worn on the left side of the body throughout the day. Daily values for mean ambient temperature, duration of bright sunshine, mean wind speed, mean relative humidity, and precipitation were obtained from local meteorological stations. The day length was calculated from times of sunrise and sunset. Based on the entire group of 41 subjects (ensemble average), a subject's step count per day decreased exponentially with increasing precipitation (r2=0.19, P<0.05). On days when precipitation was <1 mm, the step count increased with the mean ambient temperature over the range of -2 to 17 degrees C, but decreased over the range 17-29 degrees C. The daily step count also tended to increase with day length, but the regression coefficient of determination attributable to step count and mean ambient temperature (r2=0.32, P<0.05) exceeded that linking the step count and day length (r2=0.13, P<0.05). The influence of other meteorological factors was small (r2<or=0.03) and of little practical significance. On days when precipitation is <1 mm, physical activity is associated more strongly with ambient temperature than with day length, duration of bright sunshine, wind speed, or relative humidity. Our findings have practical implications for health promotion efforts designed to increase the physical activity of elderly people consistently in the face of seasonal variations in environmental conditions.