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Arch Fam Med. 2000 Apr;9(4):339-44.

An office-based instrument for exercise counseling and prescription in primary care. The Step Test Exercise Prescription (STEP).

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Centre for Activity and Ageing, Lawson Research Institute, St Joseph's Health Centre, University of Western Ontario, London.



Available evidence suggests that despite physicians' positive attitudes toward exercise as an important part of promoting a healthy lifestyle, few physicians actually prescribe exercise for their patients. One barrier may be lack of a standard office instrument.


To determine the (1) exercise counseling habits among a large group of Canadian family physicians and (2) acceptance and utilization of an exercise counseling instrument geared to primary care practice.


Randomized control trial.


Primary care practice.


Family physicians (N = 400) from 3 regions of Canada, representing both rural and urban practice (ratio of 1:3). Patients (10 per practice) were healthy community dwellers older than 65 years obtained as a convenience sample in their family practice.


In phase 1, 400 physicians listed as being in general or family practice by their provincial registries were randomly selected from a larger group listed by these registries and contacted by telephone. A total of 362 completed a 10-minute questionnaire that detailed practice demographics, preventive practice, and exercise counseling habits. In phase 2, 293 agreed to further participate in the administration of an exercise prescription randomly assigned to them by the study team. Two methods of exercise prescription were compared: counseling using the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines (control) and counseling using guidelines and an office-based step test (Step Test Exercise Prescription [STEP]) to determine fitness level and prescribe an exercise training heart rate. Physicians were asked to deliver their assigned exercise prescription to a convenience sample of the next 10 healthy patients older than 65 years who presented to the office.


Primary outcome measures were physician exercise counseling confidence and knowledge before and after the study. Secondary outcomes included details of the exercise counseling sessions (e.g., time required).


In phase 1, more than 90% of the 362 physicians claimed to practice preventive health counseling, and 70% claimed to include exercise counseling. Only 67.4% felt confident regarding their exercise prescribing, and most (93.8%) were interested in improving their exercise prescribing skills. The leading barriers to exercise prescription were described in order as inadequate time, lack of necessary skills and tools, and lack of reimbursement. In phase 2, no difference in physician profile, patient profile, or indications for exercise counseling were observed between control (n = 145) and STEP (n = 148) groups. STEP was significantly longer (16.4 vs 12.9 min; P = .001) to administer; however, improvement in physician confidence (P = .01) and knowledge (P = .009) were significantly greater compared with controls.


Most family physicians practiced preventive exercise counseling but reported lack of time and skills as barriers to this practice. Physicians randomized to the STEP group took longer to deliver exercise advice but felt more confident and knowledgeable compared with controls.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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