Journal of Public Health

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 63–69 | Cite as

Promotion of physical activity in primary care: knowledge and practice of general practitioners and physiotherapists

  • Emer M. BarrettEmail author
  • Catherine D. Darker
  • Juliette Hussey
Original Article



Being physically active has many proven health benefits and promoting physical activity to patients in primary care is an important component of public health programmes. This study examined the knowledge and practices of general practitioners and physiotherapists in the promotion of physical activity in primary care.

Subject and methods

A cross-sectional population survey was conducted in Ireland to establish participants’ knowledge of physical activity guidelines and current practice in the promotion of physical activity. A total of 342 general practitioners (response rate 65 %; n = 543) and 89 physiotherapists (response rate 88 %; n = 101) responded to the survey.


More physiotherapists (50.5 %; n = 45) than general practitioners (28 %; n = 97) correctly reported the minimal physical activity guidelines (X² = 16.56, p < .005, df = 1). General practitioners reported screening physical activity opportunistically (41 %; n = 139) and when related to a patient’s presenting complaint (37 %; n = 126). Physiotherapists reported screening physical activity routinely (34 %; n = 30) and when related to the presenting complaint (28 %; n = 25). With the exception of overweight patients, general practitioners were more likely than physiotherapists to promote physical activity to patients with known cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension (X² = 49.65, p < .001, df = 2) and hypercholesterolemia (X² = 32.58, p < .001, df = 2). Physiotherapists, however, were more likely to promote physical activity to healthy populations (X² = 9.91; p < .01, df = 2). Education and advice was the intervention most frequently used (general practitioners 76 %; n = 258, physiotherapists 97 %; n = 86).


Despite high levels of awareness of physical activity promotion amongst general practitioners and physiotherapists, there is scope to improve physical activity promotion particularly to healthy populations and ongoing challenges to incorporate evidence based interventions into routine care.


Physical activity Physical activity promotion Primary care Cardiovascular disease Health promotion 



The authors would like to thank all the GPs and PTs who participated in this study.



Conflicts of interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emer M. Barrett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catherine D. Darker
    • 2
  • Juliette Hussey
    • 1
  1. 1.Discipline of Physiotherapy, School of MedicineTrinity College DublinDublin 8Ireland
  2. 2.Department of Public Health and Primary CareTrinity College DublinDublin 24Ireland

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