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DAPA Measurement Toolkit

Domain and context

  • Physical activity is a group of complex behaviours rather than a single act
  • The context is a dimension which describes environmental aspects of physical activity
  • Domains can be viewed as a higher level classification for contexts, and are part of this dimension of physical activity


The context describes variables such as where, who, when, why and in what conditions physical activity occurs. It can consist of a label which implies certain components (e.g. hockey club), or be more detailed (e.g. in the park with friends in the evening).

Components of physical activity context

There are many ways in which physical activity context can be categorised, but some of the more common and useful include:

  • Time of activity
  • Physical location
  • Purpose (e.g. occupation, recreation, transport)
  • Day of week
  • Volition
  • Other participants
  • Cost
  • Degree of structure
  • Degree of competition
  • Weather
  • Level of supervision

The context of physical activity is made up of one or many of these components. Location of physical activity is often interpreted as the context or ‘setting’. Here, details of the physical location are considered components of the overall context alongside other descriptors of the environment.


The term “domain” has been used interchangeably with context, setting or location. Domains are defined here as broader, higher-level contexts which typically structure our daily lives. Although there is no definitive model for categorising adult physical activity into domains, one that is more commonly described for adults includes [1]:

  • Occupational
  • Travel
  • Leisure
  • Home

Relationship to context

Each domain brings together contexts which are similar in some way (i.e. they share key components). For example, the occupational domain can be most easily differentiated by its purpose (i.e. paid work), whereas the home domain is more related to its physical location.

Domains are broad categories, and consist of a range of contexts which vary both within and between individuals. For example:

  • One person’s activity in the leisure domain could include the distinct contexts of a sports club and a rural cycle path
  • The occupational physical activity of a police officer and a lumberjack would take place in very different contexts, but would still fall within the same occupational domain

Use in research

Since domains refer to the major times, locations and purposes of our daily experiences, they are often used to aid recall in some forms of physical activity measurement, such as questionnaires. This domain based approach is also useful in terms of identifying intervention targets.

For example, the leisure domain offers greater duration and volition over choice of behaviour compared to the occupational domain – this may make it a more suitable target. An example of the use of domains in physical activity research is shown by Figure P.1.6.


  • Domains are useful for investigating physical activity; however these are broad categories, each encompassing a wide variety of different contexts which may be markedly different between individuals or cultures
  • Some physical activity behaviours may fall outside or overlap multiple domains – these may go unrecorded
  • It is important that there is agreement between investigators and participants about what domain labels mean and which behaviours they include
  • Domains should be clearly defined in measurement tools and research outputs
Figure P.1.6 Self-reported physical activity levels by domains included in the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). Comparison of individuals who reported high levels of physical activity (< 1500 min/week) with those reporting activity at or slightly above recommended levels (150 to 300 min/week).


  1. Sallis JF, Cervero RB, Ascher W, Henderson KA, Kraft MK, Kerr J. An ecological approach to creating active living communities. Annual review of public health. 2006;27:297-322.
  2. Sebastiao E, Gobbi S, Chodzko-Zajko W, Schwingel A, Papini CB, Nakamura PM, et al. The International Physical Activity Questionnaire-long form overestimates self-reported physical activity of Brazilian adults. Public health. 2012;126(11):967-75.