For the scientific domain of physical activity and public health research to advance its agenda of health promotion and disease prevention continued development of measurement methodologies is essential. Over the past 50 years most data supporting a favorable relationship between habitual physical activity and chronic disease morbidity and mortality have been obtained using self-report methods, including questionnaires, logs, recalls, and diaries. Many of these instruments have been shown to have reasonable validity and reliability for determining general type, amount, intensity, and bout duration, but typically do better for groups than individuals with some instruments lacking the sensitivity to detect change in activity. During the past decade the objective assessment of physical activity using accelerometer-based devices has demonstrated substantial potential, especially in documenting the pattern of light-, moderate-, and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the day. However, these devices do not provide information on activity type, location or context. Research that combines the strengths of both self-report and objective measures has the potential to provide new insights into the benefits of physical activity and how to implement successful interventions.
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The author is with the Dept of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.