Context: Physical activity is important for health, yet few studies have examined the effectiveness of physical activity patient counseling in primary care.
Objective: To compare the effects of 2 physical activity counseling interventions with current recommended care and with each other in a primary care setting.
Design: The Activity Counseling Trial, a randomized controlled trial with recruitment in 1995-1997, with 24 months of follow-up.
Setting: Eleven primary care facilities affiliated with 3 US clinical research centers.
Participants: Volunteer sample of 395 female and 479 male inactive primary care patients aged 35 to 75 years without clinical cardiovascular disease.
Interventions: Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: advice (n = 292), which included physician advice and written educational materials (recommended care); assistance (n = 293), which included all the components received by the advice group plus interactive mail and behavioral counseling at physician visits; or counseling (n = 289), which included the assistance and advice group components plus regular telephone counseling and behavioral classes.
Main outcome measures: Cardiorespiratory fitness, measured by maximal oxygen uptake (VO(2)max), and self-reported total physical activity, measured by a 7-day Physical Activity Recall, compared among the 3 groups and analyzed separately for men and women at 24 months.
Results: At 24 months, 91.4% of the sample had completed physical activity and 77.6% had completed cardiorespiratory fitness measurements. For women at 24 months, VO(2)max was significantly higher in the assistance group than in the advice group (mean difference, 80.7 mL/min; 99.2% confidence interval [CI], 8.1-153.2 mL/min) and in the counseling group than in the advice group (mean difference, 73.9 mL/min; 99.2% CI, 0.9-147.0 mL/min), with no difference between the counseling and assistance groups and no significant differences in reported total physical activity. For men, there were no significant between-group differences in cardiorespiratory fitness or total physical activity.
Conclusions: Two patient counseling interventions differing in type and number of contacts were equally effective in women in improving cardiorespiratory fitness over 2 years compared with recommended care. In men, neither of the 2 counseling interventions was more effective than recommended care.