Intra-individual variation and estimates of usual physical activity

Sarah Levin, David R. Jacobs, Barbara E. Ainsworth, Mark T. Richardson, Arthur S. Leon

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143 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: The magnitude of intra-individual variation, as determined by three methods of physical activity (PA) assessment, was estimated to determine the optimal number of repeated measures needed to reliably measure an individual's usual PA habits.METHODS: Data were obtained from 77 healthy adults enrolled in the Survey of Activity, Fitness, and Exercise (SAFE). PA was measured by: 1) Caltrac accelerometers worn 48-hours every 26 days for one year; 2) concurrent 48-hour PA records (PARs); and 3) a corresponding series of four-week PA histories (FWH). Repeated measures regression analyses were used to analyze the data. RESULTS: PA tended to be slightly higher in the summer months as compared with the winter months, but this seasonality explained little of the intra-individual variation. The intra-individual standard deviation (SD) estimated for the FWH (180 MET-min(d-1) ) was 39% of the mean annual MET-min(d-1), as compared with the Caltrac (163 MET-min(d-1) or 9%) and PAR (259 MET-min(d-1) or 11% ). Given the intra-individual variation, three repeated observations of the FWH, six Caltrac, or nine PAR over the course of the year were needed to achieve 80% reliability in estimation of mean annual PA. CONCLUSIONS: Intra-individual variation in PA is substantial and must be accounted for in estimates of usual PA. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-488
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of epidemiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (#1R01-HL 37354) to Drs. Leon and Jacobs. Dr. Leon is partially supported by the Henry L. Taylor endowed professorship in exercise science and health promotion.


  • Caltrac accelerometer
  • Physical activity assessment
  • Seasonal variation


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