Introduction: Conflicting evidence exists on whether physical activity (PA) levels of humans have changed over the last quarter-century. The main objective of this study was to determine if there is evidence of time trends in PA, from cross-sectional studies that assessed PA at different time points using wearable devices (e.g., pedometers and accelerometers). A secondary objective was to quantify the rate of change in PA.
Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted of English-language studies indexed in PubMed, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science (1960-2020) using search terms (time OR temporal OR secular) AND trends AND (steps per day OR pedometer OR accelerometer OR MVPA). Subsequently, a meta-analytic approach was used to aggregate data from multiple studies and to examine specific factors (i.e., sex, age-group, sex and age-group, and PA metric).
Results: Based on 16 peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted between 1995 and 2017, levels of ambulatory PA are trending downward in developed countries. Significant declines were seen in both males and females (P < 0.001) as well as in children (P = 0.020), adolescents (P < 0.001), and adults (P = 0.004). The average study duration was 9.4 yr (accelerometer studies, 5.3 yr; pedometer studies, 10.8 yr). For studies that assessed steps, the average change in PA was -1118 steps per day over the course of the study (P < 0.001), and adolescents had the greatest change in PA at -2278 steps per day (P < 0.001). Adolescents also had the steepest rate of change over time, expressed in steps per day per decade.
Conclusions: Evidence from studies conducted in eight developed nations over a 22-yr period indicates that PA levels have declined overall, especially in adolescents. This study emphasizes the need for continued research tracking time trends in PA using wearable devices.
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