Measuring Sedentary Behavior and Physical Activity in Older Adults

Table of Contents


As the global population ages, there has been a growing interest in understanding physical activity and sedentary time among older adults and its relation with the ageing process. Both play a crucial role in maintaining health, independence, and overall quality of life (i.e., better physical function, cognitive function, physical performance, and preventing non-communicable diseases). However, accurate assessment of these behaviors is necessary to develop effective interventions and strategies to promote healthy aging.

In this article, we will explore the different methods available for measuring physical activity and time spent on sedentary behavior in older adults, including both subjective and objective approaches. We will discuss their respective advantages and limitations, and provide guidance on choosing the most appropriate method for your research or clinical practice. We will also introduce some of the innovative device-measured sedentary behavior and physical activity measurement technologies offered by Fibion, which can help enhance your research and practice.

An accurate understanding of sedentary behaviour and physical activity in older age is essential for identifying risk factors, designing effective interventions, and monitoring progress. As the health-related implications of sedentary behavior and inactivity become more evident, researchers and clinicians need reliable tools to measure these behaviors in various settings, such as clinical and occupational environments

Throughout the article, we will highlight the importance of considering the context of physical activity and sedentary behavior, as well as the role of accurate measurement in research and interventions. Additionally, we will discuss emerging technologies in the field, such as virtual coaching and new tools for sedentary behavior and activity measurement.

Whether you are a researcher or clinician or simply interested in the topic, this comprehensive guide will provide you with valuable insights and practical advice for measuring and understanding sedentary behavior and physical activity among older people. So, let’s dive into the world of measurement methods and technologies to enhance your research and practice, and ultimately improve well-being and health in older adults.

Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Measurements in Older Adults

Objective Measurement Methods

1. Accelerometers

Accelerometers are devices that objectively measure sedentary time and physical activity by capturing movement in one, two, or three axes. They work by detecting changes in acceleration and converting these signals into digital counts. For the general older population, accelerometers can provide valuable information on the amount and intensity of their physical activity (e.g.,, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and light physical activity) and sedentary behavior. This can be helpful with feedback for increasing breaks in sedentary time (i.e., less sedentary) and increasing the daily activity.


  • High accuracy
  • Continuous data collection
  • Can differentiate between activity intensities


  • May not accurately capture some types of activities (e.g., swimming, cycling)
  • Costlier compared to other methods
  • Requires data processing and data analysis skills

2. Inclinometers  

Inclinometers help understand the context of sedentary behaviour by detecting the angle of the body in relation to the ground. They can determine whether an individual is sitting, standing, or lying down, and are particularly useful for assessing sedentary time and postural changes in older adults.


  • Can differentiate between sitting, standing, and lying down
  • Provides accurate data on posture and sedentary time in older adults
  • Continuous data collection


  • May not capture some sedentary activities (e.g., reclined sitting)
  • Requires data processing and analysis skills
  • Costlier compared to other methods

3. Heart rate monitors

Heart rate monitors measure cardiovascular activity and can indirectly estimate sedentary time and physical activity by tracking heart rate changes. While not as accurate as accelerometers or inclinometers, they can still provide valuable insights into older adults’ activity patterns.


  • Relatively easy to use and non-invasive
  • Can estimate energy expenditure
  • Lower cost compared to other objective methods


  • May not accurately capture sedentary time
  • Can be affected by factors unrelated to physical activity (e.g., stress, medications)

4. Pedometers

Pedometers are simple, cost-effective devices that count the number of steps taken by the wearer. They typically work by detecting motion via a mechanical or electronic sensor. For community-dwelling older adults, pedometers can provide a basic assessment of daily physical activity levels. Their primary advantage is their simplicity and affordability, but they are limited in their ability to provide information on activity intensity or type.

5. Global Positioning System (GPS)

GPS devices track the location, speed, and distance covered during physical activity. They can provide valuable information on outdoor activities, such as walking or cycling. Advantages of GPS include the ability to measure outdoor activities in real-world settings and the possibility of analyzing spatial patterns of physical activity. Limitations include signal loss in certain environments (e.g., dense urban areas) and higher costs compared to other measurement tools.

Subjective Measurement Methods

1. Self-report questionnaires

Self-report questionnaires are tools that collect information on physical activity and sedentary behavior patterns through participants’ recollections. Commonly used questionnaires for older adults include the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) and the Sedentary Behavior Questionnaire (SBQ).


  • Low cost
  • Easy to administer and analyze
  • Can assess various types of activities


  • Subject to recall bias and social desirability bias
  • May not accurately capture all patterns of sedentary activities

2. Interviews and diaries

Interviews and diaries involve collecting detailed information on daily activities and sedentary behavior through either structured interviews or self-recorded logs. They can provide rich qualitative data on older adults’ daily routines and activity patterns.


  • Can capture a wide range of activities and behaviors
  • Provides detailed information on the context and specific activities


  • Time-consuming for both participants and researchers
  • Subject to recall bias and social desirability bias

Measuring sedentary behavior in older adults is crucial for understanding the health implications and guiding interventions to promote an active lifestyle. By choosing the appropriate measurement method, researchers and clinicians can obtain valuable data to inform their practice and improve the health of the aging population. For more information on various methods and tools for sedentary behavior and activity measurement, visit our article on the topic.

Comparing physical activity and sedentary behavior measurement methods

When assessing sedentary behaviour and physical activity among older adults, researchers and clinicians must carefully consider the advantages and limitations of various measurement methods. Both objective and subjective methods provide valuable insights, but choosing the appropriate tool for a particular study or clinical situation requires a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Objective Measurement Methods

Objective methods provide quantifiable, device-based measurements. Some commonly used objective methods include:

  1. Accelerometers: Measure acceleration and movement, enabling the estimation of energy expenditure, activity levels and sedentary bouts. These devices offer accurate, real-time data but may underestimate certain activities, such as cycling or swimming. Learn more about accelerometers
  2. Pedometers: Count steps taken by an individual, providing a simple and cost-effective way to monitor physical activity. However, they don’t provide information on intensity or sedentary time. Read about pedometers
  3. Inclinometers: Measure body position, allowing for the differentiation between sedentary and active time. While accurate for assessing sitting or lying down, they cannot assess the intensity of physical activity. Discover inclinometers
  4. Heart rate monitors: Measure heart rate as an indicator of physical activity intensity. While useful for estimating energy expenditure, they may not accurately capture sedentary behavior or activities with low cardiovascular demand. Explore heart rate monitors

Subjective Measurement Methods

Subjective methods rely on self-reporting or observation, which may be influenced by recall bias or social desirability. Common subjective methods include:

  1. Self-report questionnaires: Rely on participants recalling and reporting their own activities. They are cost-effective and easy to administer but may be less accurate due to recall bias. Read about questionnaires
  2. Interviews and diaries: Involve participants recording their activities in real-time or through guided interviews. These methods offer detailed insights but may be time-consuming and susceptible to social desirability bias. Learn more about interviews and diaries

Ultimately, the choice of measurement method depends on the specific research question or clinical context. A combination of methods may be necessary to achieve a comprehensive understanding of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in community-dwelling older adults. To learn more about the various methods and their applications, visit our [overview of sedentary behavior and physical activity measurements](

Choosing the Right Measurement Method for Your Study

Selecting the appropriate method to measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour is a crucial step in designing a successful study. Numerous factors must be considered to ensure the chosen method aligns with the study’s objectives and constraints. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting a measurement method:

Research question: The central research question will guide your choice of measurement method. For example, if the study aims to determine the association between sedentary behavior in older adults and specific health outcomes, objective methods like accelerometers might be more suitable. However, if the goal is to explore perceptions of physical activity, subjective methods like interviews or questionnaires may be more appropriate.

Population: Consider the target population’s characteristics, such as age, health status, and cultural background. For community-dwelling older adults, it may be necessary to choose methods that are easy to use, non-invasive, and consider potential physical limitations.

Budget: Some methods are more cost-effective than others. Pedometers, for example, are relatively inexpensive compared to accelerometers. However, the trade-off may be a loss of accuracy or detail. Determine the budget for your study and select a method that balances cost with the required level of accuracy.

Feasibility: Assess the feasibility of implementing a particular method within the study’s context. Consider the available resources, time constraints, and the willingness of participants to comply with the chosen method. For example, if a study requires participants to wear a device continuously for several weeks, compliance may be an issue, and an alternative method might be necessary.

Balancing accuracy and practicality: Strive to find a balance between the accuracy of the chosen method and its practical implementation. Objective methods generally offer higher accuracy but may be more difficult to implement, while subjective methods may be easier to use but less accurate due to recall bias or social desirability.

Combining methods for a more comprehensive assessment: In some cases, combining multiple methods may provide a more complete understanding of the studied behavior. For instance, accelerometers can be used alongside self-report questionnaires to capture both objective and subjective aspects of physical activity in older adults.

By carefully considering these factors, you can select the most appropriate method for your study, ensuring accurate and reliable results. To explore various measurement methods and their applications, visit our overview of physical activity and sedentary behavior measurements and our guide on choosing the right measurement method for further information.


Throughout this article, we have emphasized the importance of accurate sedentary behavior and physical activity measurements in older adults, as these behaviours play a critical role in maintaining health (e.g., by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and preventing cognitive impairment), well-being, and physical function in older adults. It is crucial for researchers and clinicians to select appropriate measurement methods to effectively assess physical activity and sedentary behaviors.

As a company dedicated to providing innovative and reliable measurement technologies, we encourage you to explore our offerings to enhance your research and practice. Our range of tools and services cater to different research questions, populations, and settings, ensuring that you can accurately measure physical activity among various groups, including older adults.

In conclusion, optimizing measurement strategies is vital for better outcomes in older adults. By carefully considering the factors discussed in this article and selecting the most appropriate measurement methods for your study, you can ensure the collection of accurate and reliable data. This information can ultimately lead to improved understanding, targeted interventions, and enhanced quality of life for older adults.

We invite you to learn more about our sedentary behavior and physical activity measurement technologies and how they can contribute to your research or clinical practice. By working together, we can promote a greater understanding of the complex interplay between physical activity, sedentary behavior, and health outcomes in older adults and contribute to the development of effective strategies to enhance the quality of life at later age.

About Fibion

Fibion Inc. offers scientifically valid measurement technologies for sleep, sedentary behavior, and physical activity, integrating these with cloud-based modern solutions for ease of use and streamlined research processes, ensuring better research with less hassle

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