Face-to-face interventions for promoting physical activity

Participating in insufficient amounts of physical activity leads to an increased risk of a number of chronic diseases, and physical and mental health problems. Regular physical activity should be a goal for all adults and can provide social, emotional and physical health benefits. The majority of adults are not active at recommended levels. We included a total of 10 studies recruiting 6292 apparently healthy adults in this review. The findings of the review indicate that interventions can successfully support adults' attempts to become active and fitter, for example with personal counselling and advice, feedback and offering choices of exercise, and supervision. Outcomes are improved if the intervention comprises a specified type of physical activity and is supervised by a non-health professional using a combination of group and individual approaches. New physical activity can be maintained for up to at least one year and does not increase the risk of falls or exercise related injuries. More research is needed to establish which methods of exercise promotion work best in the long term to encourage specific groups of people to be more physically active.

Authors' conclusions: 

Although we found evidence to support the effectiveness of face-to-face interventions for promoting PA, at least at 12 months, the effectiveness of these interventions was not supported by high quality studies. Due to the clinical and statistical heterogeneity of the studies, only limited conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness of individual components of the interventions. Future studies should provide greater detail of the components of interventions, and assess impact on quality of life, adverse events and economic data.

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Face-to-face interventions for promoting physical activity (PA) are continuing to be popular but their ability to achieve long term changes are unknown.


To compare the effectiveness of face-to-face interventions for PA promotion in community dwelling adults (aged 16 years and above) with a control exposed to placebo or no or minimal intervention.

Search strategy: 

We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and some other databases (from earliest dates available to October 2012). Reference lists of relevant articles were checked. No language restrictions were applied.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared face-to-face PA interventions for community dwelling adults with a placebo or no or minimal intervention control group. We included studies if the principal component of the intervention was delivered using face-to-face methods. To assess behavioural change over time the included studies had a minimum of 12 months follow-up from the start of the intervention to the final results. We excluded studies that had more than a 20% loss to follow-up if they did not apply an intention-to-treat analysis.

Data collection and analysis: 

At least two authors independently assessed the quality of each study and extracted data. Non-English language papers were reviewed with the assistance of an interpreter who was an epidemiologist. Study authors were contacted for additional information where necessary. Standardised mean differences (SMDs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated for continuous measures of self-reported PA and cardio-respiratory fitness. For studies with dichotomous outcomes, odds ratios (ORs) and 95% CIs were calculated.

Main results: 

A total of 10 studies recruiting 6292 apparently healthy adults met the inclusion criteria. All of the studies took place in high-income countries. The effect of interventions on self-reported PA at one year (eight studies; 6725 participants) was positive and moderate with significant heterogeneity (I² = 74%) (SMD 0.19; 95% CI 0.06 to 0.31; moderate quality evidence) but not sustained in three studies at 24 months (4235 participants) (SMD 0.18; 95% CI -0.10 to 0.46). The effect of interventions on cardiovascular fitness at one year (two studies; 349 participants) was positive and moderate with no significant heterogeneity in the observed effects (SMD 0.50; 95% CI 0.28 to 0.71; moderate quality evidence). Three studies (3277 participants) reported a positive effect on increasing PA levels when assessed as a dichotomous measure at 12 months, but this was not statistically significant (OR 1.52; 95% CI 0.88 to 2.61; high quality evidence). Although there were limited data, there was no evidence of an increased risk of adverse events (one study; 149 participants). Risk of bias was assessed as low (four studies; 4822 participants) or moderate (six studies; 1543 participants). Any conclusions drawn from this review require some caution given the significant heterogeneity in the observed effects. Despite this, there was some indication that the most effective interventions were those that offered both individual and group support for changing PA levels using a tailored approach. The long term impact, cost effectiveness and rates of adverse events for these interventions was not established because the majority of studies stopped after 12 months.