Assessing Daily Physical Activity in Older Adults: Unraveling the Complexity of Monitors, Measures, and Methods

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016 Aug;71(8):1039-48. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glw026. Epub 2016 Mar 8.


At the 67th Gerontological Society of America Annual Meeting, a preconference workshop was convened to discuss the challenges of accurately assessing physical activity in older populations. The advent of wearable technology (eg, accelerometers) to monitor physical activity has created unprecedented opportunities to observe, quantify, and define physical activity in the real-world setting. These devices enable researchers to better understand the associations of physical activity with aging, and subsequent health outcomes. However, a consensus on proper methodological use of these devices in older populations has not been established. To date, much of the validation research regarding device type, placement, and data interpretation has been performed in younger, healthier populations, and translation of these methods to older populations remains problematic. A better understanding of these devices, their measurement properties, and the data generated is imperative to furthering our understanding of daily physical activity, its effects on the aging process, and vice versa. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the highlights of the preconference workshop, including properties of the different types of accelerometers, the methodological challenges of employing accelerometers in older study populations, a brief summary of ongoing aging-related research projects that utilize different types of accelerometers, and recommendations for future research directions.

Keywords: Exercise; Functional performance; Physical activity; Physical function; Physical performance.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exercise*
  • Geriatrics*
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation*
  • Reproducibility of Results