Table 1

Overview of studies of exercise prescription in general practice since 2010 (n=23)

Author, year
Study type, location
TitleMain components and outcomes
Petrella et al,
Improving aerobic fitness in older adults; effects of a physician-based exercise counselling and prescription programBoth intervention and control group showed improvements in PA levels compared with baseline, but there were no statistically significant differences between the two.
Leijon et al,
Observational, Sweden34
Factors associated with patients self-reported adherence to prescribed physical activity in routine primary health careAdherence to EP was 56% at 3 months and 50% at 12 months. Higher baseline PA levels and prescriptions that included home-based activities are associated with higher adherence.
Persson et al,
Observational study,
Simplified routines in prescribing physical activity can increase the amount of prescriptions by doctors, more than economic incentives only: an observational intervention studyIncorporating a referral system into EP whereby the GP involves other professionals in the patient’s care increases the amount of EP.
Carroll et al,
Computerized tailored physical activity reports A randomized controlled trialAn individually tailored PA programme increased PA compared with baseline at 6 months, but there was no significant difference to the control group.
Elley et al,
New Zealand36
Cost-effectiveness of exercise on prescription with telephone support among women in general practice over 2 yearsAn intervention involving EP and telephone support from practice nurses can move people from less active to more active categories over 24 months and is cost effective.
Patel et al,
Interviews, New Zealand47
General practitioners' views and experiences of counselling for physical activity through the New Zealand green prescription programGenerally, GPs were well disposed to EP. Strategies to save time included collaborating with dedicated exercise support counsellors and involving practice nurses.
Attalin et al,
Physical -activity prescription for obesity management in primary care: attitudes and practices of GPs in a southern French CityThe majority of GPs had no training in EP. Lack of available validated tools followed by lack of time were the most important barriers for GPs.
Persson et al, 2013
Focus groups,
Physical activity on prescription (PAP) from the General Practitioner’s perspective – a qualitative studyAsking and advising about PA was considered acceptable and important but taking the extra step of prescribing it was not. GPs preferred to refer for EP.
Knight et al, 2014
Prescribing physical activity through primary care: does activity intensity matter?EP at different intensities improved cardiometabolic health markers.
Knight et al, 2014
Trial (non-randomised),
Health promotion through primary care: enhancing self-management with activity prescription and mHealthEP plus remote monitoring technologies improved physiological outcomes and PA levels in groups that targeted sedentary behaviour, higher intensity PA and both.
Knight and Petrella,
Mixed-method, Canada50
Prescribing physical activity for healthy aging: longitudinal follow-up and mixed method analysis of a primary care interventionPhysiological gains were maintained at 6 months.
Participants reported that mHealth is an acceptable support.
Windt et al,
Pre-test and post-test, Canada38
Can a 3-hour educational workshop and the provision of practical tools encourage family physicians to prescribe physical activity as medicine? A pre-post studyThe proportion of GPs who reported EP activity rose significantly (p<0.5).
Lanhers et al,
Cross-sectional survey,
General practitioners’ barriers to prescribe physical activity: the dark side of the cluster effects on the physical activity of their type 2 diabetes patientsPatients that had lower perceived barriers to PA had better PA levels and better glycaemic control. GPs who perceived higher barriers to PA promotion tended to have patients who did less PA.
Arciniegas Calle et al,
Pre-test and post-test,
South America40
One-day workshop-based training improves physical activity prescription knowledge in Latin American physicians: a pre-test post-test studySignificant improvement in knowledge gain (p<0.001) was reported for doctors who attended a 1-day workshop on EP.
Joelsson et al,
Focus group,
Patients with chronic pain may need extra support when prescribed physical activity in primary care: a qualitative studyParticipants reported lack of clarity about the nature and practical implementation of EP.
Lundqvist et al,
Physical activity on prescription (PAP), in patients with metabolic risk factors. A 6-month follow-up study in primary health careEP was delivered by practice nurses mainly, including 1–2 support sessions during the 6 months. 73% of patients had improved PA levels at 6 months.
Rodjer et al,
Observational, Sweden42
Physical activity on prescription (PAP): self-reported physical activity and quality of life in a Swedish primary care population, 2-year follow-upThe intervention involved a written EP and follow-up with an exercise professional. Significant improvements in PA were noted at 6 months and 12 months but not at 2-year follow-up.
Harris et al,
A pedometer-based walking intervention in 45- to 75-year-olds, with and without practice nurse support: the PACE-UP three-arm cluster RCTIntervention with pedometer plus nurse or postal support improved PA levels significantly. The improvement was maintained at 3 years.
Fowles et al,
Survey, Canada43
Exercise in medicine Canada physical activity counselling and exercise prescription training improves counselling, prescription, and referral practices among physicians across CanadaAfter a full training day, confidence was improved and barriers were overcome. At 3-month follow-up, physicians prescribing EP went from 20% to 74%.
O’Brien et al,
Survey, Canada44
The effects of previous educational training on physical activity counselling and exercise prescription practices among physicians across Nova Scotia: a cross-sectional studyPhysicians who had received training in PA counselling and PA prescription were more likely than physicians who had never attended, to advise their patients about PA.
Yaman and Atay,
The effect of exercise prescription of primary care physician on the quality of life in patientsPatients who received an EP reported better quality of life and had objectively measured physical function. The EP contained endurance, strength, balance and flexibility components.
Smith et al,
Observational, Australia45
Prescription of physical activity in management of high blood pressure in Australian general practicesMost patients did not receive an EP. Those that did were more likely to engage and to consider PA to be important.
Lundqvist et al,
Which patients benefit from physical activity on prescription (PAP)? A prospective observational analysis of factors that predict increased physical activityThe most common EP was 30–45 min of moderate-intensity walking, 2–5 days per week. Physical and psychological factors were associated with better EP uptake.
  • EP, exercise prescription; GP, general practitioner; PA, physical activity; RCT, randomised control trial.