Objectives: To test the effectiveness, in the setting of primary health care, of verbal advice on exercise from a family physician (FP) combined with supporting written information.
Design: A controlled trial with subjects allocated to a control group or one of two intervention groups using a balanced design based on day of the week.
Setting: Ten general practices in Perth, Western Australia.
Subjects: All sedentary patients consulting an FP.
Intervention: Verbal advice on exercise from the FP and a pamphlet on exercise mailed to the patient's home address within 2 days of his/her visit to the doctor.
Main outcome measure: Level of physical activity at follow-up.
Results: 6,351 adult patients attending an FP practice completed a screening questionnaire, and 763 sedentary adults were recruited to the project. The response to follow-up, via a postal survey at 1, 6, and 12 months after the index consultation was 70%, 60%, and 57%, respectively. At 1 month a subsample of the control and intervention subjects were contacted for a telephone interview to verify self-reported levels of activity (n = 136). Treating all nonresponders as sedentary, at 1 month significantly more subjects in the combined intervention groups reported doing some physical activity (40%) compared with the control group (31%). Similarly, at 6 months, 30% of the control group and 38% of the combined intervention groups were "now active." There was very little change at follow-up at 12 months (31% control and 36% intervention groups, respectively).
Conclusion: A simple intervention aimed at the promotion of physical activity to sedentary patients in general practice can help reduce inactivity.