Does counseling by clinicians improve physical activity? A summary of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Ann Intern Med. 2002 Aug 6;137(3):208-15. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-137-3-200208060-00015.


Purpose: To determine whether counseling adults in primary care settings improves and maintains physical activity levels.

Data sources: The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and Registry of Controlled Trials and the MEDLINE, HealthStar, and Best Evidence databases were searched for papers published from 1994 to March 2002.

Study selection: Controlled trials, case-control studies, and observational studies that examined counseling interventions aimed at increasing physical activity in general primary care populations were reviewed. The researchers included trials in which 1) a patient's primary care clinician performed some of the counseling intervention; 2) behavioral outcomes (physical activity) were reported; and 3) the study was of "good" or "fair" quality, according to criteria developed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Data extraction: Data were abstracted on design and execution, quality, providers, patients, setting, counseling intervention, and self-reported physical activity at follow-up.

Data synthesis: Eight trials involving 9054 adults met the inclusion criteria. Among six controlled trials with a usual care control group, the effects of counseling on physical activity were mixed. Because most studies had at least one methodologic limitation, it was difficult to rigorously assess the efficacy of the interventions. More research is needed to clarify the effect, benefits, and potential harms of counseling patients in primary care settings to increase physical activity.

Conclusion: Evidence is inconclusive that counseling adults in the primary care setting to increase physical activity is effective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Counseling*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Office Visits
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Time Factors