Open Access Research article

Patterns and correlates of physical activity: a cross-sectional study in urban Chinese women

Adriana L Jurj12, Wanqing Wen1, Yu-Tang Gao3, Charles E Matthews1, Gong Yang1, Hong-Lan Li3, Wei Zheng1 and Xiao-Ou Shu1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37203, USA

2 Currently at the South Carolina Cancer Prevention and Control Program, South Carolina Public Health Consortium, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA

3 Department of Epidemiology, Shanghai Cancer Institute, Shanghai, PR China

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:213  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-213

Published: 21 August 2007



Inactivity is a modifiable risk factor for many diseases. Rapid economic development in China has been associated with changes in lifestyle, including physical activity. The purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns and correlates of physical activity in middle-aged and elderly women from urban Shanghai.


Study population consisted of 74,942 Chinese women, 40–70 years of age, participating in the baseline survey of the Shanghai Women's Health Study (1997–2000), an ongoing population-based cohort study. A validated, interviewer-administered physical activity questionnaire was used to collect information about several physical activity domains (exercise/sports, walking and cycling for transportation, housework). Correlations between physical activity domains were evaluated by Spearman rank-correlation coefficients. Associations between physical activity and socio-demographic and lifestyle factors were evaluated by odds ratios derived from logistic regression.


While more than a third of study participants engaged in regular exercise, this form of activity contributed only about 10% to daily non-occupational energy expenditure. About two-thirds of women met current recommendations for lifestyle activity. Age was positively associated with participation in exercise/sports and housework. Dietary energy intake was positively associated with all physical activity domains. High socioeconomic status, unemployment (including retirement), history of chronic disease, small household, non-smoking status, alcohol and tea consumption, and ginseng intake were all positively associated with exercise participation. High socioeconomic status and small household were inversely associated with non-exercise activities.


This study demonstrates that physical activity domains other than sports and exercise are important contributors to total energy expenditure in women. Correlates of physical activity are domain-specific. These findings provide important information for research on the health benefits of physical activity and have public health implications for designing interventions to promote participation in physical activity.