Fractal Complexity of Daily Physical Activity Patterns Differs with Age over the Life Span and Is Associated with Mortality in Older Adults

David A. Raichlen, Yann C. Klimentidis, Chiu Hsieh Hsu, Gene E. Alexander, Anne Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Accelerometers are included in a wide range of devices that monitor and track physical activity for health-related applications. However, the clinical utility of the information embedded in their rich time-series data has been greatly understudied and has yet to be fully realized. Here, we examine the potential for fractal complexity of actigraphy data to serve as a clinical biomarker for mortality risk. Methods: We use detrended fluctuation analysis (DFA) to analyze actigraphy data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES; n = 11,694). The DFA method measures fractal complexity (signal self-affinity across time-scales) as correlations between the amplitude of signal fluctuations in time-series data across a range of time-scales. The slope, α, relating the fluctuation amplitudes to the time-scales over which they were measured describes the complexity of the signal. Results: Fractal complexity of physical activity (α) decreased significantly with age (p = 1.29E-6) and was lower in women compared with men (p = 1.79E-4). Higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in older adults and in women were associated with greater fractal complexity. In adults aged 50-79 years, lower fractal complexity of activity (α) was associated with greater mortality (hazard ratio = 0.64; 95% confidence interval = 0.49-0.82) after adjusting for age, exercise engagement, chronic diseases, and other covariates associated with mortality. Conclusions: Wearable accelerometers can provide a noninvasive biomarker of physiological aging and mortality risk after adjusting for other factors strongly associated with mortality. Thus, this fractal analysis of accelerometer signals provides a novel clinical application for wearable accelerometers, advancing efforts for remote monitoring of physiological health by clinicians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1461-1467
Number of pages7
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Aug 16 2019


  • Actigraphy
  • Detrended fluctuation analysis
  • Wearables

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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