Seasonal and sex variation in physical activity levels among agro-pastoralists in Nepal

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1996 May;100(1):7-21. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(199605)100:1<7::AID-AJPA2>3.0.CO;2-Y.


Considerable attention has been devoted to variation in levels of energy expenditure between and within populations; these are commonly evaluated following international guidelines for grading light, moderate, and heavy physical activity levels (PAL). This study presents activity profiles by season and sex for subsistence agro-pastoralists in Nepal, comparing data for a sample of 20 men observed four times across the year with previously published data on women. Total energy expenditure (TEE) was estimated from direct minute-by-minute observation (totaling 1,679 h for men, 3,601 h for women) and measures of the energy cost of single tasks (117 for men, 168 for women). PAL were calculated and graded as multiples of predicted basal metabolic rate (BMR). Despite an explicitly egalitarian organization of labor, men achieved higher PAL than women (P <.0001), although according to international gradings, both men and women assume moderately heavy PAL in the winter and very heavy PAL in the monsoon. PAL were 1.88 and 2.22 x BMR for men in respective seasons (P <.005; TEE, 11.8 MJ/d and 13.9 MJ/d) and 1.77 and 2.0 x BMR for women (TEE, 9.1 MJ/d and 10.5 MJ/ d). High TEE values result from time-consuming work in subsistence tasks, most of which are of moderate energy cost. Results show that the international guideline (FAO/WHO/UNU [1985]) for grading levels of energy expenditure, which adopts discrepant sex-specific values to define thresholds for moderate or heavy PAL, can mask significant gender variation. Male/female ratios of PAL values are suggested instead for population-level comparisons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nepal
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Seasons*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Time Factors