Primary care facilities may be a natural setting for delivering interventions that focus on behaviors that improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. The purpose of this study was to examine the 24-month effects of the Activity Counseling Trial (ACT) on CVD risk factors, to examine whether changes in CVD risk factors differed according to baseline risk factor status, and to examine whether changes in fitness were associated with changes in CVD risk factors. ACT was a 24-month multicenter randomized controlled trial to increase physical activity. Participants were 874 inactive men and women aged 35-74 years. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three arms that varied by level of counseling, intensity, and resource requirements. Because there were no significant differences in change over time between arms on any of the CVD risk factors examined, all arms were combined, and the effects of time, independent of arm, were examined separately for men and women. Time × Baseline risk factor status interactions examined whether changes in CVD risk factors differed according to baseline risk factor status. Significant improvements in total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C, and triglycerides were seen in both men and women who had high (or low for HDL-C) baseline levels of risk factors, whereas significant improvements in diastolic blood pressure were seen only in those men with high baseline levels. There were no improvements in any risk factors among participants with normal baseline levels. Changes in fitness were associated with changes in a number of CVD risk factors. However, most relationships disappeared after controlling for changes in body weight. Improvements in lipids from the ACT interventions could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in people with already high levels of lipids by 16%-26% in men and 11%-16% in women. Interventions that can be implemented in health care settings nationwide and result in meaningful population-wide changes in CVD risk factors are needed. The ACT physical activity interventions produced substantial improvements among men and women with elevated CVD risk factors.
Keywords: behavioral intervention; cardiovascular disease risk factors; fitness; physical activity; primary care counseling.