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Where should older people’s physical performance and physical activity be measured?

In aging research, recruiting people with poor health and function is challenging. A recent study conducted at the Gerontology Research Center, at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, shows that physical performance and physical activity can be measured at home as well as in a research laboratory. Older people with poorer health participated less frequently in the research phases requiring more effort and commitment. In this study, these were measurements in the research laboratory and activity monitoring using two devices attached to the body.

“In order to get a more valid picture of the effects of aging on functioning, we should also study people with prevalent health problems,” says Professor Taina Rantanen, the director of the study.

Senior researcher Erja Portegijs adds: “Those older people who decided to participate were able to do most tests even in the presence of some limitations in health and function.”

It is easier to recruit older people with poorer health and function when measuring physical performance and physical activity at home. However, such a testing setting is less controllable than in a research laboratory or when using activity monitors attached to the body. Coming to the research laboratory and using monitors, on the other hand, requires more effort and commitment from participants.

Relationships with different indicators of health, function and activity were similar regardless of the measurement method. Thus, the selective drop-out of study participants in testing situations requiring more effort and commitment did not clearly affect the results.

“This study suggests that physical performance and physical activity assessed in these different settings correlate with each other,” Portegijs explains. “Furthermore, despite differences in the level of test results between those with better or declined heath, the correlations between variables were similar.”

“These results suggest that the choice of testing methods and setting should be based primarily on research aims and target population,” Portegijs says.

This research is part of the broader AGNES project. In total, 1,021 persons aged 75, 80, and 85 years, who were living independently in a city in central Finland, participated in the measurements. The majority of them participated in the home interview and the assessment in the research laboratory, during which walking speed and handgrip strength were measured. About half of the participants additionally wore the activity monitors for about one week and completed a questionnaire assessing physical activity during the home interview. The AGNES study is funded by the Advanced Grant from the European Research Council and the Academy of Finland.

Original article:
Portegijs E, Karavirta L, Saajanaho M, Rantalainen T, Rantanen T. Assessing physical performance and physical activity in large population-based aging studies: home-based assessments or visits to the research center? BMC Public Health. 2019 Nov 27;19(1):1570. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7869-8.

The Gerontology Research Center (GEREC) is a joint effort between the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Tampere. At the University of Jyväskylä, the GEREC is part of the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences.

For more information, please contact:
Project leader, Professor Taina Rantanen, tel. 040 805 3590,
Senior Researcher Erja Portegijs,

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