International Journal of Obesity (2004) 28, 1105–1110. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802712 Published online 22 June 2004

Daily physical activity assessment: what is the importance of upper limb movements vs whole body movements?

H Kumahara1, H Tanaka2 and Y Schutz1

  1. 1Department of Physiology, Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  2. 2Laboratory of Exercise Physiology, Faculty of Sports and Health Science, Fukuoka University, Fukuoka, Japan

Correspondence: Dr Y Schutz, Department of Physiology, Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Rue du Bugnon 7, CH-1005 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:

Received 8 February 2004; Revised 4 April 2004; Accepted 21 April 2004; Published online 22 June 2004.



OBJECTIVE: The movement of the upper limbs (eg fidgeting-like activities) is a meaningful component of nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This study examined the relationship between upper limb movements and whole body trunk movements, by simultaneously measuring energy expenditure during the course of the day.

DESIGN: A cross-sectional study consisting of 88 subjects with a wide range in body mass index (17.3–32.5 kg/m2). The energy expenditure over a 24-h period was measured in a large respiratory chamber. The body movements were assessed by two uniaxial-accelerometers during daytime, one on the waist and the other on the dominant arm. The accelerometry scores from level 0 (=immobile) up to level 9 (=maximal intensity) were recorded. The activities of subjects were classified into eight categories: walking at two speeds on a horizontal treadmill (A & B), ambling (C), self-care tasks (D), desk work (E), meals (F), reading (G), watching TV (H).

RESULTS: There was a significant relationship between the accelerometry scores from the waist (ACwaist) and that from the wrist (ACwrist) over the daytime period (R2=0.64; P<0.001). The ACwrist was systematically higher than the ACwaist during sedentary activities, whereas it was the reverse for walking activities. ACwrist to ACwaist ratio of activities E–H were above 1.0 and for walking activities (A–C) were below 1.0. A multiple regression analysis for predicting daytime energy expenditure revealed that the explained variance improved by 2% only when the ACwrist was added as a second predictor in addition to the ACwaist. This indicates that the effect of the ACwrist for predicting energy expenditure was of limited importance in our conditions of measurement.

CONCLUSIONS: The acceleration of the upper limbs which includes fidgeting is more elevated than that of the whole body for sitting/lying down activities. However, their contribution to energy expenditure is lower than whole body trunk movements, thus indicating that the weight-bearing locomotion activities may be a key component of NEAT. However, its contribution may depend on the total duration of the upper limb movements during the course of the day.


NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis), indirect calorimetry, accelerometer, walking exercise, upper limb movement, lower limb movement

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