The number of days of data and number of subjects necessary to estimate total physical activity (TPA) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) requires an understanding of within- and between-subject variances, and the influence of sex, body composition, and age.
Seventy-one adults wore accelerometers for 7-day intervals over 6 consecutive months.
Body fat and sex influenced TPA and MVPA. The sources of subject-related variation for TPA and MVPA were within-subject (48.4% and 54.3%), between-subject (34.3% and 31.8%), and calendar effects (17.3% and 13.9%). Based on within-subject variances, the error associated with estimating TPA and MVPA by collecting 1 to 7 days of data ranged from 28.2% to 13.3% for TPA and 62.0% to 28.6% for MVPA. Based on between-subject variances, detecting a 10% difference between 2 groups at a power of 90% requires approximately 200 and 725 subjects per group for TPA and MVPA, respectively.
Estimates of MVPA are more variable than TPA in overweight adults, therefore more days of data are required to estimate MVPA and larger sample sizes to detect treatment differences for MVPA. Log-transforming data reduces the need for additional days of data collection, thereby improving chances of detecting treatment effects.