Physical Activity


Self-reported information on adult physical activity levels has been collected at ages 31, 36, 43, 53, 60-64 and 68-70 years.

At age 31, people were asked to rate their fitness level and to state how often they took part in several sports and exercise options.

At ages 36 and 43, questions on the frequency and duration of participation in a range of leisure time activities and sports, outdoor activities and exercise (including work-related activity) in the previous month were collected by nurse interviewers during home visits.

Using data at age 36 years (1982), a set of four physical activity variables have been derived based on the Minnesota leisure time physical activity questionnaire (see Kuh et al 1992). These are:

  • physical activity during the working day
  • cycling and walking
  • heavy gardening and DIY
  • sports and recreational activities

Each of these variables categorises people into three groups from inactive through to most active, except for physical activity during the working day which categorises people into four groups (EXWORK82). The three-category variables are grouped as:

  • No such activity in the past four weeks
  • One to four times in the past four weeks
  • Five or more times in the past four weeks


At age 43 years a similar summary variable was derived for sports and recreational activities.

These derived variables have been recoded so that 0 is always least active, 1 is less active and 2 is most active (except for the physical activity during the working day variable, where an additional variable (EXWORK82C) has been created to be coded in the same way, the four-category variable is also available).


In 1999 and 2014-16, at age 53 and 68-70, a single, three-part question on participation in sports, vigorous leisure activities or any exercises in spare time (not including getting to and from work) in the past four weeks, was asked as part of the CAPI interview. Cohort members reported whether or not they participated in any such activities, how many occasions in the last four weeks they had done these activities and the number of occasions on which exercise made them sweaty or out of breath. These variables were used to derive a three-category variable (EXER99X / EXER1415X) equivalent to similar variables on sports and recreational activity at ages 36 and 43 years.


In 2006-10, at age 60-64, study members were asked to complete a pre-assessment questionnaire which included questions based on the EPAQ2. This contained questions on physical activity associated with work and commuting, as well as frequency of undertaking a range of activities, such as sports, gym, team games, DIY, gardening and household chores in the last 12 months. Study members were also invited to wear a CamNtech Actiheart monitor for seven days. The Actiheart has two clips which attach directly to standard ECG electrodes and was worn on the chest. It was used to measure activity levels and heart rates.


In 2014-16, at age 68-70, study members were given the option to complete an additional form and wear an accelerometer for seven days. The separate activity questionnaire included questions on typical levels and frequency of current activity, overall levels of physical activity throughout adult life, falls, joints and bones. The accelerometer, Gulf Coast Data Concepts X16-1C, was worn on the hip and was used to measure movement and impact of activity during habitual physical activity. A time sheet was also completed so the times when the monitor was not worn could be documented.
Around 90% of participants chose to complete the physical activity questionnaire, with around half of those also agreeing to wear the actvity monitor.


Obtaining the standard physical activity variables

  • You can obtain a list of the standard topic variables to use in an NSHD data sharing request by selecting the link at the end of this page.
  • The XML version of the link can be sent to the LHA as part of a data sharing request.
  • Simply use your browser's Save As facility to save the list of variables to a file on your computer.
  • You can then email the XML version to us in support of your application, or when you fill in the data access application form and it asks which variables you need, mention the 'physical activity standard basket' along with any others.


Please Note that the physical activity standard basket contains only the most commonly-used summary variables on this topic. A large amount of physical activity data have been collected in adulthood, including frequencies and duration of many different types of exercise, activity related to work and everyday routines, and detailed accelerometry data.

If you are specifically interested in physical activity you are strongly advised to investigate this subject on Skylark to view the full, detailed variable metadata.

Due to the nature of the accelerometry data, they are not available to view on Skylark. If you wish to use these data, please mention this on your application.


More information is available on this topic - including the main variable naming conventions and some value labels.

HTML version of the standard variables to view

Download the XML for the physical activity standard basket