Validity of the Nurses' health study physical activity questionnaire in estimating physical activity in adults with rheumatoid arthritis

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017 May 31;18(1):234. doi: 10.1186/s12891-017-1589-y.


Background: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) demonstrate reduced aerobic capacity, excess cardiovascular risk, mobility limitations and are less physically active than their healthy peers. Physical activity may decrease RA disease activity through its anti-inflammatory effects and psychological and health benefits. To successfully manage RA symptoms and reduce cardiovascular risks associated with RA through increased physical activity (PA), accurate physical activity assessments are critical. Accelerometry is an objective physical activity measure, but not widely used. Validity of the Nurses' Health Study physical activity questionnaire II (NHSPAQ) has not been determined for estimation of physical activity in RA. This study examined NHSPAQ validity in adults with RA compared to accelerometry-based metabolic equivalents determined (METs) and results of performance tests. We hypothesized NHSPAQ scores would correlate moderately (0.4-0.5) with accelerometer physical activity estimates.

Methods: Thirty-five adults with RA (mean age [SD] 62 (Williams et. al, Health Qual Life Outcomes 10:28, 2012) years, 28 females (80%) recruited from a hospital-based clinic registry participated in a one-week accelerometry trial. Medical data was compiled. Participants completed the NHSPAQ, a self-paced 20-m walk test, and modified timed step test. Participants wore an accelerometer for 7 consecutive days, then completed a physical activity log and another NHSPAQ. Metabolic equivalents (METs) were derived from NHSPAQ and accelerometers using standardized formulas. NHSPAQ METs were correlated with accelerometer METs and data from performance measures.

Results: Average disease duration was 21 years (SD = 11), 63% patients took biologics. The average weekly METs reported were 29 (SD = 33) and accelerometer METs were 33 (SD = 22). NHSPAQ METs correlated moderately with accelerometer-derived METs (r = 0.48 95% CI (0.15-0.70). Self-reported PA correlated moderately with Step Test performance (r = 0.50 95% CI (0.18-0.72).

Conclusion: Patients with RA exhibit low physical activity levels. General fitness measures were moderately correlated with physical activity levels. A moderate significant correlation existed between NHSPAQ and accelerometry METs. These preliminary data suggest the NHSPAQ may be useful to describe physical activity levels in this population.

Keywords: Measurement validity; Physical activity; Rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry / methods
  • Accelerometry / standards
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Registries / standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*