Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Adherence to physical activity guidelines in older adults, using objectively measured physical activity in a population-based study

Barbara J Jefferis12*, Claudio Sartini1, I-Min Lee3, Minkyoung Choi4, Antoinette Amuzu4, Christina Gutierrez4, Juan Pablo Casas45, Sarah Ash1, Lucy T Lennnon1, S Goya Wannamethee1 and Peter H Whincup6

Author Affiliations

1 UCL Department of Primary Care & Population Health, UCL, London, UK

2 UCL Physical Activity Research Group, London, UK

3 Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

4 Department of Non-Communicable Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

5 Institute of Cardiovascular Science, University College London, London, UK

6 Division of Community Health Sciences, St George’s University of London, London, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:382  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-382

Published: 19 April 2014



Physical activity (PA) levels in older adults decline with age. The prevalence and correlates of adherence to current UK PA guidelines in older adults has not been studied using objectively measured PA, which can examine precisely whether PA is carried out in bouts of specified length and intensity.


Free living men and women aged 70–93 years from 25 towns in the United Kingdom, participating in parallel on-going population based cohort studies were invited (by post) to wear a GT3x accelerometer over the hip for one week in 2010–12. Adherence to UK PA guidelines was defined as ≥150 minutes/week of moderate or vigorous PA (MVPA) in bouts of ≥10 minutes; the effect of different intensities and durations were examined.


1593 men and 857 women participated (responses 51% and 29% respectively). 15% men and 10% women achieved ≥150 minutes/week of MVPA (defined as >1040 cpm) in bouts lasting ≥10 minutes. With MVPA defined as >1952 cpm, prevalences were 7% and 3% respectively. Those adhering to guidelines were younger, had fewer chronic health conditions, less depression, less severe mobility limitations, but higher exercise self-efficacy and exercise outcomes expectations. They rated their local environment more highly for social activities and leisure facilities, having somewhere nice to go for a walk and feeling safe after dark, They left the house on more days per week, were more likely to use active transport (cycle or walk) and to walk a dog regularly.


Few older adults attain current PA guidelines. Health promotion to extend the duration of moderate-intensity activity episodes to 10 minutes or more could yield important health gains among older adults. However future studies will need to clarify whether attaining guideline amounts of PA in spells lasting 10 minutes or more is critical for reducing chronic disease risks as well as improving cardiometabolic risk factors.

Older adults; Physical activity; Accelerometer; Physical health; Depression; Self-efficacy