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Patterns of physical activity in different domains and implications for intervention in a multi-ethnic Asian population: a cross-sectional study

Ei Ei Khaing Nang1, Eric YH Khoo2, Agus Salim1, E Shyong Tai12, Jeannette Lee1 and Rob M Van Dam123*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Republic of Singapore

2 Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Republic of Singapore

3 Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston MA, USA

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:644  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-644

Published: 25 October 2010



The benefits of regular physical activity for quality of life and disease prevention have been well documented. Identification of low activity groups would facilitate interventional programs. Many studies have focussed on leisure time activity, which may not capture the spectrum of physical activity relevant to disease prevention. Furthermore, few studies have been conducted in urban Asian settings.


We evaluated physical activity in different domains (leisure time, occupational, household and transportation) and its sociodemographic determinants in 4750 adult Chinese, Malay, and Asian Indian Singaporeans. Physical activity was assessed using locally validated questionnaires.


Occupational and household activity contributed substantially more to total physical activity than leisure time or transportation activity. However, when only activity of at least moderate intensity was considered leisure time activity contributed most to total physical activity. Higher socio-economic status was associated with more leisure time activity, but less total physical activity due to reduced activity in the other domains. Chinese ethnicity was also associated with less total physical activity as a result of less activity in non-leisure time domains.


In assessing levels of physical activity and recommending changes, it is important to consider physical activity in different domains. Focus on leisure-time physical activity alone could identify the wrong groups for intervention and miss opportunities for increasing physical activity in populations.