J Epidemiol Community Health 66:1110-1115 doi:10.1136/jech-2011-200505
  • Research reports

Longitudinal patterns in physical activity and sedentary behaviour from mid-life to early old age: a substudy of the Whitehall II cohort

Open Access
  1. Andrew Steptoe
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mark Hamer, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, 1-19 Torrington Place, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK; m.hamer{at}
  1. Contributors MH had full access to the data and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and accuracy of the data analyses. All authors contributed to the concept and design of study, drafting and critical revision of the manuscript.

  • Accepted 27 March 2012
  • Published Online First 12 July 2012


Background There are few longitudinal data on physical activity patterns from mid-life into older age. The authors examined associations of self-reported physical activity, adiposity and socio-demographic factors in mid-life with objectively assessed measures of activity in older age.

Methods Participants were 394 healthy men and women drawn from the Whitehall II population-based cohort study. At the baseline assessment in 1997 (mean age 54 years), physical activity was assessed through self-report and quantified as metabolic equivalent of task hours/week. At the follow-up in 2010 (mean age 66 years), physical activity was objectively measured using accelerometers worn during waking hours for seven consecutive days (average daily wear time 891±68 min/day).

Results Self-reported physical activity at baseline was associated with objectively assessed activity at follow-up in various activity categories, including light-, moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity (all ps<0.04). Participants in the highest compared with lowest quartile of self-reported activity level at baseline recorded on average 64.1 (95% CI 26.2 to 102.1) counts per minute more accelerometer-assessed activity at follow-up and 9.0 (2.0–16.0) min/day more moderate-to-vigorous daily activity, after adjusting for baseline covariates. Lower education, obesity and self-perceived health status were also related to physical activity at follow-up. Only age and education were associated with objectively measured sedentary time at follow-up.

Conclusion Physical activity behaviour in middle age was associated with objectively measured physical activity in later life after 13 years of follow-up, suggesting that the habits in adulthood are partly tracked into older age.


  • Funding This research was supported by the British Heart Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the BUPA Foundation, UK. The Whitehall II study is additionally supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01HL36310; R01AG013196; R01AG034454), USA.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by University College London Hospital (UCLH) committee on the Ethics of Human Research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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