Objective measurement of physical activity and sedentary behavior among US adults aged 60 years or older

Prev Chronic Dis. 2012;9:E26. Epub 2011 Dec 15.


Introduction: Estimates of objectively measured physical activity among older adults differ depending on the cut points used to define intensity. Our objective was to assess 1) moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), exploring differences in prevalence depending on the cut point used, and 2) sedentary behavior, among US adults aged 60 years or older.

Methods: We used the most recently available accelerometer data (2003-2004 and 2005-2006) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The sample included 2,630 adults aged 60 or older who wore an ActiGraph accelerometer for 1 week. We defined MVPA using 4 cut points (≥500, ≥1,000, ≥1,500, and ≥2,000 counts/min) and sedentary behavior as fewer than 100 counts per minute. All estimates were weighted to reflect the US population.

Results: The overall average counts per minute was 216. Mean MVPA ranged from 10.8 minutes per day (based on 2,000 counts/min) to 106.8 minutes per day (based on 500 counts/min). Regardless of the cut point used, MVPA was lower with each successive age group (60-69, 70-79, and ≥80) and higher among men than women. At any cut point, MVPA was highest for Hispanics and "other" racial/ethnic groups, followed by non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks. The average time spent in sedentary behavior was 8.5 hours per day. The amount of sedentary time was greater among participants who were aged 80 or older compared to younger groups and among men compared to women.

Conclusion: MVPA estimates vary among adults aged 60 or older, depending on the cut point chosen, and most of their time is spent in sedentary behaviors. These considerations and the data presented suggest more research is necessary to identify the appropriate method of setting accelerometer cut points for MVPA in older adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy / methods*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Nutrition Surveys / methods*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • United States