Ecological momentary assessment is a feasible and valid methodological tool to measure older adults' physical activity and sedentary behavior

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Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) has the potential to yield new insights into the prediction and modeling of physical activity (PA) and sedentary behavior (SB). The objective of this study was to determine the feasibility and validity of an EMA protocol to assess older adults’ PA and SB. Feasibility was determined by examining factors associated with EMA survey compliance and if PA or SB were impacted by EMA survey compliance. Validity was determined by comparing EMA-reported PA and SB to objectively measured PA and SB at the EMA prompt. Over 10 days, older adults (n=104; Agerange=60-98 years) received 6 randomly-prompted EMA questionnaires on a smartphone each day and wore an ActivPAL activity monitor to provide a device-based measure of PA and SB. Participants reported whether they were currently engaged in PA or SB. Older adults were compliant with the EMA and ActivPAL protocol on 92% of occasions. Differences in EMA compliance differed by weight status. Among overweight and obese older adults EMA compliance differed by sex (OR=3.15, 95% CI: 1.43, 6.92) and day of week (OR=1.79, 95% CI: 1.33, 2.41). Among normal weight older adults, EMA compliance differed by time of day (OR=1.52, 95% CI: 1.02, 2.30). EMA compliance did not differ for device-based PA or SB in the 15 minutes before versus the 15 minutes after the EMA prompt, suggesting that these behaviors did not influence likelihood of responding and responding did not influence these behaviors (ps>0.05). When PA was reported through EMA, participants engaged in less device-based PA in the 15 minutes after compared to the 15 minutes before the EMA prompt (p=0.01), suggesting possible reactance or a disruption of PA. EMA-reported PA and SB were positively associated with higher device-based PA and SB in the ±15 minutes, respectively, supporting criterion validity (ps<0.05). The assessment of older adults’ PA and SB through EMA is feasible and valid, although there may be PA reactance to EMA prompting. Therefore, EMA represents a significant methodological tool that can aid in our understanding of the environmental, social, and psychological processes regulating older adults’ PA and SB in the context of everyday life.




Maher, J. P., Rebar, A. L., & Dunton, G. F. (2018). Ecological momentary assessment is a feasible and valid methodological tool to measure older adults’ physical activity and sedentary behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(AUG).

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