Background: Although the benefits of physical activity for health and functioning are recognized to extend throughout life, the physical activity level of most older people is insufficient with respect to current guidelines. The primary health care setting may offer an opportunity to influence and to support older people to become physically active on a regular basis. Currently, there is a lack of data concerning general practitioner (GP) advice on physical activity in Germany. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the rate and characteristics of older patients receiving advice on physical activity from their GP.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study using data collected at 7 years of follow-up of a prospective cohort study (German epidemiological trial on ankle brachial index, getABI). 6,880 unselected patients aged 65 years and above in the primary health care setting in Germany were followed up since October 2001. During the 7-year follow-up telephone interview, 1,937 patients were asked whether their GP had advised them to get regular physical activity within the preceding 12 months. The interview also included questions on socio-demographic and lifestyle variables, medical conditions, and physical activity. Logistic regression analysis (unadjusted and adjusted for all covariables) was used to examine factors associated with receiving advice. Analyses comprised only complete cases with regard to the analysed variables. Results are expressed as odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI).
Results: Of the 1,627 analysed patients (median age 77; range 72-93 years; 52.5% women), 534 (32.8%) stated that they had been advised to get regular physical activity. In the adjusted model, those more likely to receive GP advice on physical activity were men (OR [95% CI] 1.34 [1.06-1.70]), patients suffering from pain (1.43 [1.13-1.81]), coronary heart disease and/or myocardial infarction (1.56 [1.21-2.01]), diabetes mellitus (1.79 [1.39-2.30]) or arthritis (1.37 [1.08-1.73]), and patients taking a high (> 5) number of medications (1.41 [1.11-1.80]).
Conclusions: The study revealed a relatively low rate of older primary health care patients receiving GP advice on physical activity. GPs appeared to focus their advice on patients with chronic medical conditions. However, there are likely to be many more patients who would benefit from advice.