Integrating a physical activity coaching intervention into diabetes care: a mixed-methods evaluation of a pilot pragmatic trial

Transl Behav Med. 2022 May 25;12(4):601-610. doi: 10.1093/tbm/ibac014.


Physical activity (PA) counseling is under-utilized in primary care for patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D), despite improving important health outcomes, including physical function. We adapted evidence-based PA counseling programs to primary care patients, staff, and leader's needs, resulting in "Be ACTIVE" comprised of shared PA tracker data (FitBit©), six theory-informed PA coaching calls, and three in-person clinician visits. In a pilot randomized pragmatic trial, we evaluated the feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of Be ACTIVE. Sedentary patients with T2D were randomized to Be ACTIVE versus an enhanced control condition. Mixed methods assessments of feasibility and acceptability included costs. Objective pilot effectiveness outcomes included PA (primary outcome, accelerometer steps/week), the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) physical function measure, and behavioral PA predictors. Fifty patients were randomized to Be ACTIVE or control condition. Acceptability was >90% for patients and clinic staff. Coaching and PA tracking costs of ~$90/patient met Medicare reimbursement criteria. Pre-post PA increased by ~11% (Be ACTIVE) and ~6% in controls (group difference: 1574 ± 4391 steps/week, p = .72). As compared to controls, Be ACTIVE participants significantly improved SPPB (0.9 ± 0.3 vs. -0.1 ± 0.3, p = .01, changes >0.5 points prevent falls clinically), and PA predictors of self-efficacy (p = .02) and social-environmental support (p < .01). In this pilot trial, Be ACTIVE was feasible and highly acceptable to stakeholders and yielded significant improvements in objective physical function consistent with lower fall risk, whereas PA changes were less than anticipated. Be ACTIVE may need additional adaptation or a longer duration to improve PA outcomes.

Trial registration: NCT02473926.

Keywords: Implementation; Physical activity; Physical function; Primary care; Type 2 diabetes mellitus; acceptability.

Plain language summary

We report results from a pragmatic and behavioral theory-based physical activity (PA) coaching program, termed “Be ACTIVE,” for patients with type 2 diabetes that was designed to improve PA and function for patients and to be reimbursable and feasible for primary care teams. As compared to those who did not receive coaching, patients who received Be ACTIVE had physical function improvements that lowered their risk of falls. Be ACTIVE was delivered with fidelity and was highly acceptable to the key primary care stakeholders of patients, clinic staff coaches, and clinicians. Patients particularly liked the focus on setting goals to do enjoyable activities, the accountability of wearing a PA monitor, and the support of their coach. Clinical care professionals felt that their role of encouraging behavior change (coach) and safety monitoring (clinician) aligned well with their clinical expertise, and was professionally rewarding. Coaches felt the program helped them guide many patients to overcome preexisting negative perceptions of PA and develop intrinsic motivations to be active. The costs of clinic coach time and PA tracker rental needed to deliver the 12-week program could be reimbursed by the Medicare Chronic Disease Management programs, albeit with a patient co-payment required.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / therapy
  • Exercise
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Mentoring*
  • United States

Associated data