Previous measures of physical activity for epidemiologic studies were considered inadequate to meet the needs of a community-based health education trial. Therefore, new methods of quantifying the physical activity habits of communities were developed which are practical for large health surveys, provide information on the distribution of activity habits in the population, can detect changes in activity over time, and can be compared with other epidemiologic studies of physical activity. Independent self-reports of vigorous activity (at least 6 metabolic equivalents (METs) ), moderate activity (3-5 METs), and total energy expenditure (kilocalories per day) are described, and the physical activity practices of samples of California cities are presented. Relationships between physical activity measures and age, education, occupation, ethnicity, marital status, and body mass index are analyzed, and the reliabilities of the three activity indices are reported. The new assessment procedure is contrasted with nine other measures of physical activity used in community surveys.