Factors contributing to the effectiveness of physical activity counselling in primary care: a realist systematic review

Patient Educ Couns. 2015 Apr;98(4):412-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2014.11.020. Epub 2014 Dec 3.


Objective: Physical activity (PA) counselling in primary care increases PA but is not consistently practiced. This study examined factors that optimise the delivery and impact of PA counselling.

Methods: A realist systematic review based on the PRECEDE-PROCEED model and RAMESES principles was conducted to identify essential components of PA counselling. MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, and Physical Education Index were searched from 2000 to 2013 for studies that evaluated family practice PA counselling.

Results: Of 1546 articles identified, 10 were eligible for review (3 systematic reviews, 5 randomised controlled trials, 2 observational studies). Counselling provided by clinicians or counsellors alone that explored motivation increased self-reported PA at least 12 months following intervention. Multiple sessions may sustain increased PA beyond 12 months.

Conclusion: Given the paucity of eligible studies and limited detail reported about interventions, further research is needed to establish the optimal design and delivery of PA counselling. Research and planning should consider predisposing, reinforcing and enabling design features identified in these studies.

Practice implications: Since research shows that PA counselling promotes PA but is not widely practiced, primary care providers will require training and tools to operationalize PA counselling.

Keywords: Health promotion; Physical activity; Primary care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Counseling / methods*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Family Practice
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*