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International research: How active are you really?

A new international study questions how well you actually evaluate your level of physical activity. The study suggests that your self-evaluation might be more wishful thinking than objective assessment.

Scientists from The Netherlands (Tilburg University, CentERdata), the US and the UK put together a project testing how accurately people rate their physical activity status. In order to answer this question, they worked with 748 people from the Netherlands, 540 from the US, and 254 from the UK. All the participants were aged 18 and older, and about half of them were women.

Accelerometer

The scientists asked the participants to report how active they thought they were, as well as objectively measured the participants' activity levels using wrist-worn accelerometers. The subjects were asked to rate their activity levels using a five-point scale, from ‘inactive’ to ‘very active’, and their performance was monitored by accelerometers over a 7-day period.

Overestimation

In short, we're all less active than we think we are. Study respondents from the US tended to overestimate their activity levels the most. People in the US turned out to be much less physically active than participants from the other two countries. And, strikingly, the percentage of US individuals that qualified as ‘inactive’ was twice as large as that of inactive Dutch and English participants.

Older people were generally likely to say that they were quite as active as their younger counterparts when, in fact, the opposite was true.

The findings have now been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Press release