Patients on dialysis are less physically active than sedentary persons with normal kidney function. To assess the consequences of inactivity and the results of efforts to increase activity in the end-stage renal disease (ESRD) population, valid instruments to measure physical activity and physical functioning in this group are needed. We performed a cross-sectional study to establish the validity in ESRD of several questionnaires designed to measure physical activity or physical functioning in the general population. Questionnaires studied included the Stanford 7-day Physical Activity Recall questionnaire (PAR), the Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly (PASE), the Human Activity Profile (HAP), and the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36-item questionnaire (SF-36). Physical activity was measured using three-dimensional activity monitors (accelerometers) over a seven-day period (the "gold standard"). Patients also underwent physical performance tests, including measurement of gait speed, stair climbing time, and chair rising time. Study questionnaires were administered, and questionnaire results were compared with each other and with activity monitor and physical performance test results. Thirty-nine maintenance hemodialysis patients participated in the study. Dialysis patients scored worse than previously published healthy norms on all tests. All questionnaires correlated with seven-day accelerometry and with at least one measure of physical performance. The HAP correlated best with accelerometry (r = 0.78, P < 0.0001). Seventy-five percent of the variability in physical activity measured by accelerometry could be explained by a model that combined information from the HAP and the PASE. The HAP and the physical functioning scale of the SF-36 were about equally well correlated with physical performance measures. These questionnaires are valid in patients on hemodialysis and should be used to study the physical activity and rehabilitation efforts in this population further.