Purpose: Use of accelerometers to assess physical activity (PA) is widespread in public health research, but their utility is often limited by the accuracy of data-processing techniques. We hypothesized that more sophisticated approaches to data processing could distinguish between activity types based on accelerometer data, providing a more accurate picture of PA.
Methods: Using data from MTI Actigraphs worn by six subjects during four activities (walking, walking uphill, vacuuming, working at a computer), quadratic discriminant analysis (QDA) was performed, and a hidden Markov model (HMM) was trained to recognize the activities. The ability of the new analytic techniques to accurately classify PA was assessed.
Results: The mean (SE) percentage of time points for which the QDA correctly identified activity mode was 70.9% (1.2%). Computer work was correctly recognized most frequently (mean (SE) percent correct = 100% (0.01%)), followed by vacuuming (67.5% (1.5%)), uphill walking (58.2% (3.5%)), and walking (53.6% (3.3%)). The mean (SE) percentage of time points for which the HMM correctly identified activity mode was 80.8% (0.9%). Vacuuming was correctly recognized most frequently (mean (SE) percent correct = 98.8% (0.05%)), followed by computer work (97.3% (0.7%)), walking (62.6% (2.3%)), and uphill walking (62.5% (2.3%)). In contrast to a traditional method of data processing that misidentified the intensity level of 100% of the time spent vacuuming and walking uphill, the QDA and HMM approaches correctly estimated the intensity of activity 99% of the time.
Conclusion: The novel approach of estimating activity mode, rather than activity level, may allow for more accurate field-based estimates of physical activity using accelerometer data, and this approach warrants more study in a larger and more diverse population of subjects and activities.