Physical activity promotion in primary care: A Utopian quest?

Alexis Lion, Anne Vuillemin, Jane S. Thornton, Daniel Theisen, Saverio Stranges, Malcolm Ward*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


The health benefits of physical activity (PA) are acknowledged and promoted by the scientific community, especially within primary care. However, there is little evidence that such promotion is provided in any consistent or comprehensive format. Brief interventions (i.e. discussion, negotiation or encouragement) and exercise referral schemes (i.e. patients being formally referred to a PA professional) are the two dominant approaches within primary care. These cost-effective interventions can generate positive changes in health outcomes and PA levels in inactive patients who are at increased risk for non-communicable diseases. Their success relies on the acceptability and efficiency of primary care professionals to deliver PA counselling. To this end, appropriate training and financial support are crucial. Similarly, human resourcing and synergy between the different stakeholders must be addressed. To obtain maximum adherence, specific populations should be targeted and interventions adapted to their needs. Key enablers include motivational interviewing, social support and multi-disciplinary approaches. Leadership and lines of accountability must be clearly delineated to ensure the success of the initiatives promoting PA in primary care. The synergic and multisectoral action of several stakeholders, especially healthcare professionals, will help overcome physical inactivity in a sustainable way.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-886
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Promotion International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • evidence-based health promotion
  • non-communicable diseases
  • physical activity
  • primary care


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