Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Self-reported leisure time physical activity: a useful assessment tool in everyday health care

Lars Rödjer12*, Ingibjörg H Jonsdottir3, Annika Rosengren1, Lena Björck1, Gunnar Grimby4, Dag S Thelle5, Georgios Lappas1 and Mats Börjesson1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Emergency and Cardiovascular Medicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Department of Medicine, Halland Hospital Varberg, Träslövsvägen 68, Varberg, SE 432 81, Sweden

3 Institute of Stress Medicine, Gothenburg, Sweden

4 Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, Section of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

5 Department of Biostatistics, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Oslo University, Oslo, Norway

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:693  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-693

Published: 24 August 2012



The individual physical activity level is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death, as well as a possible target for improving health outcome. However, today´s widely adopted risk score charts, typically do not include the level of physical activity. There is a need for a simple risk assessment tool, which includes a reliable assessment of the level of physical activity. The aim of this study was therefore, to analyse the association between the self-reported levels of physical activity, according to the Saltin-Grimby Physical Activity Level Scale (SGPALS) question, and cardiovascular risk factors, specifically focusing on the group of individuals with the lowest level of self-reported PA.


We used cross sectional data from the Intergene study, a random sample of inhabitants from the western part of Sweden, totalling 3588 (1685 men and 1903 women, mean age 52 and 51). Metabolic measurements, including serum-cholesterol, serum-triglycerides, fasting plasma-glucose, waist circumference, blood pressure and resting heart rate, as well as smoking and self-reported stress were related to the self-reported physical activity level, according to the modernized version of the SGPALS 4-level scale.


There was a strong negative association between the self-reported physical activity level, and smoking, weight, waist circumference, resting heart rate, as well as to the levels of fasting plasma-glucose, serum-triglycerides, low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and self-reported stress and a positive association with the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). The individuals reporting the lowest level of PA (SGPALS, level 1) had the highest odds-ratios (OR) for having pre-defined levels of abnormal risk factors, such as being overweight (men OR 2.19, 95% CI: 1.51-3.19; women OR 2.57, 95 % CI: 1.78-3.73), having an increased waist circumference (men OR 3.76, 95 % CI: 2.61-5.43; women OR 2.91, 95% CI: 1.94-4.35) and for reporting stress (men OR 3.59, 95 % CI: 2.34-5.49; women OR 1.25, 95% CI: 0.79-1.98), compared to the most active individuals, but also showed increased OR for most other risk factors analyzed above.


The self-reported PA-level according to the modernized Saltin-Grimby Physical Activity Level Scale, SGPALS, is associated with the presence of many cardiovascular risk factors, with the most inactive individuals having the highest risk factor profile, including self-reported stress. We propose that the present SGPALS may be used as an additional, simple tool in a routine risk assessment in e.g. primary care, to identify inactive individuals, with a higher risk profile.