Introduction: This paper reviews studies of physical activity interventions in health care settings to determine effects on physical activity and/or fitness and characteristics of successful interventions.
Methods: Studies testing interventions to promote physical activity in health care settings for primary prevention (patients without disease) and secondary prevention (patients with cardiovascular disease [CVD]) were identified by computerized search methods and reference lists of reviews and articles. Inclusion criteria included assignment to intervention and control groups, physical activity or cardiorespiratory fitness outcome measures, and, for the secondary prevention studies, measurement 12 or more months after randomization. The number of studies with statistically significant effects was determined overall as well as for studies testing interventions with various characteristics.
Results: Twelve studies of primary prevention were identified, seven of which were randomized. Three of four randomized studies with short-term measurement (4 weeks to 3 months after randomization), and two of five randomized studies with long-term measurement (6 months after randomization) achieved significant effect on physical activity. Twenty-four randomized studies of CVD secondary prevention were identified; 13 achieved significant effects on activity and/or fitness at twelve or more months. Studies with measurement at two time points showed decaying effects over time, particularly if the intervention were discontinued. Successful interventions contained multiple contacts, behavioral approaches, supervised exercise, provision of equipment, and/or continuing intervention. Many studies had methodologic problems such as low follow-up rates.
Conclusion: Interventions in health care settings can increase physical activity for both primary and secondary prevention. Long-term effects are more likely with continuing intervention and multiple intervention components such as supervised exercise, provision of equipment, and behavioral approaches. Recommendations for additional research are given.