Because of their frequent encounters with sedentary patients, family physicians are poised to be on the forefront of the medical community's response to physical inactivity. The purpose of this pilot study was to examine whether the addition of a pedometer to brief physician counseling could help patients increase their ambulatory activity. Ninety four participants recruited from a family medicine clinic were randomly assigned to 2 groups. Both groups received a brief physician endorsement of regular physical activity, a handout on the benefits of an active lifestyle, and 3 follow-up phone calls from a health educator. In addition, the intervention group received a pedometer and was instructed to record their steps daily over the 9-week study period. Measurements were taken for self-reported walking, walking stage-of-change, walking self-efficacy, and pedometer steps (intervention group only). Among completers, mean daily step counts in the pedometer group rose from 6779 at baseline to 8855 at study end. Average individual improvement was 41% over the study period. Both groups significantly increased blocks walked per day, stair climbing versus using the elevator, days per week walking > or = 30 minutes, and walking for fun/leisure. The frequency of walking short trips improved significantly more in the pedometer group relative to the comparison group. The results of this pilot study highlight the need for further research on the use of pedometers as a motivational tool in the context of medical encounters with inactive patients.