Effectiveness of physical activity interventions in primary care settings

Physical activity interventions delivered or prompted by health professionals in primary care significantly increased participants’ participation in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 14 minutes per week.

We conducted a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of aerobic-based physical activity interventions delivered or prompted by primary care health professionals with a usual care comparator group or another comparator that did not involve physical activity. Eligible trials were identified through searches of databases, trial registries and grey literature sources. Meta-analyses examined the difference between the groups in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity minutes/week from baseline to final follow-up.

This review included 51 RCTs, 46 of which were included in the meta-analysis involving data from approximately 16,000 participants from across the world. We found that physical activity interventions delivered by health professionals in primary care significantly increase patients’ participation in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity relative to comparators. However, no significant group differences were found when analyses were limited to only trials that used a device to measure physical activity.

What next?

Future research is needed to establish the optimum number and length of contacts required to successfully initiate, and then maintain patients’ physical activity. 

Additionally, the effectiveness of different types of physical activity interventions, and their content, need to be explored further using devices. Healthcare professionals, policy makers, and healthcare commissioners can use the results of this review to make evidence-based decisions about the implementation of physical activity interventions within primary care consultations.

Citation details

Kettle V, Madigan CDCoombe AGraham HThomas JJCChalkley AEDaley AJEffectiveness of physical activity interventions delivered or prompted by health professionals in primary care settings: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. The BMJ. 2022. BMJ 2022376 DOI: 10.1136/bmj-2021-068465

Acknowledgements

Amanda J. Daley is supported by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research Professorship award. This report was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Leicester Biomedical Research Centre. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health and Social Care. Additional information and data to facilitate the meta-analysis were provided by ten study authors and we would like to thank these authors for their assistance.

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Our researchers

Tory Kettle

Dr Tory Kettle

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Claire Madigan

Dr Claire Madigan

Senior Research Associate, Weight management interventions

Henrietta Graham

Henrietta Graham

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Jonah Thomas

Jonah Thomas

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Amanda Daley

Professor Amanda Daley

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Centre Director