Characterizing Longitudinal Patterns of Physical Activity in Mid-Adulthood Using Latent Class Analysis: Results From a Prospective Cohort Study

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The authors aimed to describe how longitudinal patterns of physical activity during mid-adulthood (ages 31–53 years) can be characterized using latent class analysis in a population-based birth cohort study, the Medical Research Council’s 1946 National Survey of Health and Development. Three different types of physical activity—walking, cycling, and leisure-time physical activity—were analyzed separately using self-reported data collected from questionnaires between 1977 and 1999; 3,847 study members were included in the analysis for one or more types of activity. Patterns of activity differed by sex, so stratified analyses were conducted. Two walking latent classes were identified representing low (52.8% of males in the cohort, 33.5% of females) and high (47.2%, 66.5%) levels of activity. Similar low (91.4%, 82.1%) and high (8.6%, 17.9%) classes were found for cycling, while 3 classes were identified for leisure-time physical activity: “low activity” (46.2%, 48.2%), “sports and leisure activity” (31.0%, 35.3%), and “gardening and do-it-yourself activities” (22.8%, 16.5%). The classes were reasonably or very well separated, with the exception of walking in females. Latent class analysis was found to be a useful tool for characterizing longitudinal patterns of physical activity, even when the measurement instrument differs slightly across ages, which added value in comparison with observed activity at a single age.

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