Statistical methods to model and evaluate physical activity programs, using step counts: a systematic review

S. S. M. Silva, Madawa W. Jayawardana, Denny Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Physical activity reduces the risk of noncommunicable diseases and is therefore an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Regular engagement in physical activity can produce immediate and long term health benefits. However, physical activity levels are not as high as might be expected. For example, according to the global World Health Organization (WHO) 2017 statistics, more than 80% of the world’s adolescents are insufficiently physically active. In response to this problem, physical activity programs have become popular, with step counts commonly used to measure program performance. Analysing step count data and the statistical modeling of this data is therefore important for evaluating individual and program performance. This study reviews the statistical methods that are used to model and evaluate physical activity programs, using step counts.

Adhering to PRISMA guidelines, this review systematically searched for relevant journal articles which were published between January 2000 and August 2017 in any of three databases (PubMed, PsycINFO and Web of Science). Only the journal articles which used a statistical model in analysing step counts for a healthy sample of participants, enrolled in an intervention involving physical exercise or a physical activity program, were included in this study. In these programs the activities considered were natural elements of everyday life rather than special activity interventions.

This systematic review was able to identify 78 unique articles describing statistical models for analysing step counts obtained through physical activity programs. General linear models and generalized linear models were the most popular methods used followed by multilevel models, while structural equation modeling was only used for measuring the personal and psychological factors related to step counts. Surprisingly no use was made of time series analysis for analysing step count data. The review also suggested several strategies for the personalisation of physical activity programs.

Overall, it appears that the physical activity levels of people involved in such programs vary across individuals depending on psychosocial, demographic, weather and climatic factors. Statistical models can provide a better understanding of the impact of these factors, allowing for the provision of more personalised physical activity programs, which are expected to produce better immediate and long-term outcomes for participants. It is hoped that this review will identify the statistical methods which are most suitable for this purpose.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0206763
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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