Intended for healthcare professionals


Promoting physical activity in primary care

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 07 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6615
  1. Nefyn H Williams, clinical senior lecturer
  1. 1North Wales Centre for Primary Care Research, North Wales Clinical School, College of Health and Behavioural Science, Bangor University, Wrexham LL13 7YP, UK
  1. nefyn.williams{at}

Brief advice should be given to most patients but rehabilitation offered to those with chronic illness

Although it is widely recognised that physical activity is important for health, most of the population remains sedentary. Policy change has been proposed at several levels, including promotion of physical activity promotion in primary care.1 Exercise referral schemes are one method of doing this, and the linked systematic review by Pavey and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.d6462) assesses their effectiveness.2

Primary care is well placed to promote physical activity for several reasons: in developed countries a large proportion of the general population consult their general practitioner every year; health promotion is an integral part of the primary care consultation; patients with chronic disease, such as diabetes, or risk factors, such as hypertension, are reviewed regularly; and simple screening questionnaires have been developed to record physical activity in primary care consultations.

A Cochrane systematic review of interventions promoting physical activity reported that they had a moderate effect on self reported physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness in the short to medium term.3 However, the interventions included in this review were heterogeneous. …

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