The Activity Counseling Trial (ACT) is a multicenter, randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity in the primary health care setting. ACT has recruited, evaluated, and randomized 874 men and women 35-75 yr of age who are patients of primary care physicians. Participants were assigned to one of three educational interventions that differ in amount of interpersonal contact and resources required: standard care control, staff-assisted intervention, or staff-counseling intervention. The study is designed to provide 90% power in both men and women to detect a 1.1 kcal.kg-1.day-1 difference in total daily energy expenditure between any two treatment groups, and over 90% power to detect a 7% increase in maximal oxygen uptake, the two primary outcomes. Primary analyses will compare study groups on mean outcome measures at 24 months post-randomization, be adjusted for the baseline value of the outcome measure and for multiple comparisons, and be conducted separately for men and women. Secondary outcomes include comparisons between interventions at 24 months of factors related to cardiovascular disease (blood lipids/lipoproteins, blood pressure, body composition, plasma insulin, fibrinogen, dietary intake, smoking, heart rate variability), psychosocial effect, and cost-effectiveness, and at 6 months for primary outcome measures. ACT is the first large-scale behavioral intervention study of physical activity counseling in a clinical setting, includes a generalizable sample of adult men and women and of clinical setting, and examines long-term (24 months) effects. ACT has the potential to make substantial contributions to the understanding of how to promote physical activity in the primary health care setting.