Redefining the roles of sensors in objective physical activity monitoring

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Jan;44(1 Suppl 1):S13-23. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182399bc8.


Background: Because physical activity researchers are increasingly using objective portable devices, this review describes the current state of the technology to assess physical activity, with a focus on specific sensors and sensor properties currently used in monitors and their strengths and weaknesses. Additional sensors and sensor properties desirable for activity measurement and best practices for users and developers also are discussed.

Best practices: We grouped current sensors into three broad categories for objectively measuring physical activity: associated body movement, physiology, and context. Desirable sensor properties for measuring physical activity and the importance of these properties in relationship to specific applications are addressed, and the specific roles of transducers and data acquisition systems within the monitoring devices are defined. Technical advancements in sensors, microcomputer processors, memory storage, batteries, wireless communication, and digital filters have made monitors more usable for subjects (smaller, more stable, and longer running time) and for researchers (less costly, higher time resolution and memory storage, shorter download time, and user-defined data features).

Future directions: Users and developers of physical activity monitors should learn about the basic properties of their sensors, such as range, accuracy, and precision, while considering the data acquisition/filtering steps that may be critical to data quality and may influence the desirable measurement outcome(s).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Transducers