• activity;
  • aging;
  • variability;
  • walking;
  • StepWatch

OBJECTIVES: To explore the potential of using step activity monitoring to detect differences in ambulatory activity associated with advancing age and declining function in community-dwelling seniors.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional pilot study.

SETTING: General communities of Seattle, Washington; Catonsville, Maryland; and Durham, North Carolina.

PARTICIPANTS: Thirty healthy younger adults, 28 healthy older adults, and 12 older adults reporting functional limitations.

MEASUREMENTS: Ambulatory activity data were collected over 6 days with the StepWatch 3. Average daily values were calculated for number of steps, number of minutes of activity, number of activity bouts, variability of minute-to-minute activity, and randomness of minute-to-minute activity fluctuations.

RESULTS: Healthy older adults engaged in fewer bouts of activity (P=.03) and displayed less-variable activity (P=.02) than younger adults. Older adults reporting functional limitations not only engaged in fewer bouts of activity (P=.009) and less variable activity (P<.001) than younger adults, but also accumulated fewer total steps (P=.003) and minutes of activity (P=.008) and had less-random minute-to-minute activity fluctuations (P=.02).

CONCLUSION: Step activity monitoring data were useful for detecting differences in ambulatory activity according to age and functional limitation. Monitor-based measures reflecting patterns of ambulatory activity show promise for use in studies of physical functioning.