Provider perceptions of physical activity counseling: A systematic review

Emily Hebert, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background: Although the health benefits of physical activity are well-established, the evidence regarding the efficacy of physical activity counseling by primary care providers is inconclusive. Healthy People 2020 recommends that physicians provide counseling on physical activity to their patients; however, few providers adhere to these guidelines. The primary objective of this review is to systematically summarize and evaluate primary care providers' perceptions and attitudes about physical activity counseling. Methods: A systematic literature search of relevant articles was conducted between January and May 2011 using four databases: MEDLINE (1948 to the present), PsycInfo (1806 to the present), CINAHL Plus with Full Text (1981 to the present), and the Cochrane Library. Studies were included if 1) the study population consisted of primary care providers and, 2) the study evaluated providers' attitudes and perceptions pertaining to physical activity counseling. Both quantitative and studies were considered. Results: Most primary care providers agree that physical activity counseling is important and that they have a role in promoting physical activity to their patients. Providers are uncertain about the effectiveness of counseling, feel only marginally comfortable providing more than general advice about physical activity, and cite major barriers to counseling such as lack of time, lack of training, and lack of reimbursement for their counseling efforts. The evidence in this review suggests that beyond these barriers, providers are more likely to counsel their patients about physical activity if they are active themselves, or if they feel that their patients' condition, such as cardiovascular disease or obesity, would strongly benefit from a lifestyle change. Conclusion: While major barriers to physical activity counseling, such as lack of time for counseling and lack of counseling knowledge still exist, primary care providers are receptive to the idea of acting as physical activity promoters in their clinical practices. However, the barriers encountered need to be addressed on multiple levels (e.g. individual, organizational), and additional training is needed in order for providers to effectively promote the physical activity of their patients.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Hebert, Emily, "Provider perceptions of physical activity counseling: A systematic review" (2011). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1502168.