Adelman RD, Greene MG, Friedmann E, Ory MG, Snow CE. Older patient-physician discussions about exercise. J Aging Phys Act. 2011; 19:(3)225-238

Anis NA, Lee RE, Ellerbeck EF, Nazir N, Greiner KA, Ahluwalia JS. Direct observation of physician counseling on dietary habits and exercise: patient, physician, and office correlates. Prev Med. 2004; 38:(2)198-202

Barnes PM, Schoenborn CA. Trends in adults receiving a recommendation for exercise or other physical activity from a physician or other health professional. NCHS Data Brief. 2012; (86)1-8

Belfrage ASV, Grotmol KS, Tyssen R Factors influencing doctors' counselling on patients' lifestyle habits: A cohort study. BJGP Open. 2018; 2:(3)

Blake H, Harrison C. Health behaviours and attitudes towards being role models. Br J Nurs. 2013; 22:(2)86-94

Buchholz SW, Purath J. Physical activity and physical fitness counseling patterns of adult nurse practitioners. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2007; 19:(2)86-92

Butler R, Monsalve M, Thomas G Estimating time physicians and other health care workers spend with patients in an intensive care unit using a sensor network. Am J Med. 2018; 131:(8)972.e9-972.e15

Crane E, Schaller G, Bergström M, Leivadiotou D, Simpson A. How active are UK-based doctors?. The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 2021; 103:(3)139-143

Diehl K, Mayer M, Mayer F Physical activity counseling by primary care physicians: attitudes, knowledge, implementation, and perceived success. J Phys Act Health. 2015; 12:(2)216-223

Douglas F, Torrance N, van Teijlingen E, Meloni S, Kerr A. Primary care staff 's views and experiences related to routinely advising patients about physical activity. A questionnaire survey. BMC Public Health. 2006; 6:(1)

DuMonthier WN, Haneline MT, Smith M. Survey of health attitudes and behaviors of a chiropractic college population. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2009; 32:(6)477-484

Gagliardi AR, Faulkner G, Ciliska D, Hicks A, Hicks A. Factors contributing to the effectiveness of physical activity counselling in primary care: A realist systematic review. Patient Educ Couns. 2015; 98:(4)412-419

Gates AB. Training tomorrow's doctors, in exercise medicine, for tomorrow's patients. Br J Sports Med. 2015; 49:(4)207-208

Holtz KA, Kokotilo KJ, Fitzgerald BE, Frank E. Exercise behaviour and attitudes among fourth-year medical students at the University of British Columbia. Can Fam Physician. 2013; 59:(1)e26-e32

Howe M, Leidel A, Krishnan SM, Weber A, Rubenfire M, Jackson EA. Patient-related diet and exercise counseling: do providers' own lifestyle habits matter?. Prev Cardiol. 2010; 13:(4)180-185

James I, Smith A, Smith T, Kirby E, Press P, Doherty P. Randomized controlled trial of effectiveness of pedometers on general practitioners' attitudes to engagement in and promotion of physical activity. J Sports Sci. 2009; 27:(7)753-758

Lamarche K, Vallance J. Prescription for physical activity a survey of Canadian nurse practitioners. Can Nurse. 2013; 109:(8)22-26

Lobelo F, de Quevedo IG. The evidence in support of physicians and health care providers as physical activity role models. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016; 10:(1)36-52

NHS Health Scotland. Scottish Physical Activity Screening Question (Scot-PASQ). 2012. (accessed 30 January 2023)

Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. Physical activity, England, data to 2021. Fingertips public health data. 2022. (accessed 24 January 2023)

Osborne SA, Adams JM, Fawkner S, Kelly P, Murray AD, Oliver C. Tomorrow's doctors want more teaching and training on physical activity for health. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017; 51:624-625

Osinaike J, Hartley SE. Physical activity counselling among junior doctors in the UK: A qualitative study. Health Educ J. 2021; 80:(5)584-595

Painter P, Carlson L, Carey S, Myll J, Paul S. Determinants of exercise encouragement practices in hemodialysis staff. Nephrol Nurs J. 2004; 31:(1)67-74

Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 physical activity guidelines Advisory Committee scientific report. 2018. (accessed 24 January 2023)

Physical Activity and Health Alliance. Scottish Physical Activity Screening Question (Scot-PASQ). 2018. (accessed 30 January 2023)

Public Health England. Health matters: physical activity - prevention and management of long-term conditions. 2020. (accessed 30 January 2023)

Public Health Scotland. Screening for physical activity levels using Scot-PASQ. 2023. (accessed 30 January 2023)

Scottish Government. Chapter 5: Physical activity. 2021. (accessed 24 January 2022)

Smith AW, Borowski LA, Liu B U.S. primary care physicians' diet-, physical activity-, and weight-related care of adult patients. Am J Prev Med. 2011; 41:(1)33-42

Stanford FC, Durkin MW, Blair SN, Powell CK, Poston MB, Stallworth JR. Determining levels of physical activity in attending physicians, resident and fellow physicians and medical students in the USA. Br J Sports Med. 2012; 46:(5)360-364

Stanford FC, Durkin MW, Stallworth JR, Blair SN. Comparison of physical activity levels in physicians and medical students with the general adult population of the United States. Phys Sportsmed. 2013; 41:(4)86-92

UK Chief Medical Officers Guidelines Writing Group. UK Chief Medical Officers' physical activity guidelines. 2019. (accessed 24 January 2023)

Walsh J, Swangard DM, Davis T, McPhee SJ. Exercise counseling by primary care physicians in the era of managed care. Am J Prev Med. 1999; 16:(4)307-313

Are doctors and nurses engaging in physical activity and its promotion?

09 February 2023
Volume 32 · Issue 3



Physical activity counselling in health care is inadequate but the reasons for this are not well understood.


To evaluate physical activity participation and counselling perceptions and practices among doctors and nurses in the UK.


This study used two anonymised online questionnaires distributed at different times to doctors and nurses throughout the UK.


629 responses were obtained; 78.3% of doctors and 73.4% of nurses met the UK guideline for aerobic physical activity. Perceived importance of counselling on physical activity was high but less than 50% of participants were actually providing counselling. Counselling was more likely in primary care and doctors were marginally more likely than nurses to counsel.


Doctors and nurses are an active cohort and view counselling on physical activity as important. Despite this, counselling levels are low especially in secondary care. Efforts should be made to improve knowledge and opportunity for physical activity counselling.

Physical activity is beneficial across all aspects of health. It has a pivotal role in preventing and treating a range of non-communicable diseases including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. It is also well-documented that physical activity is a crucial tool in the prevention and management of mental illness (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2018).

The UK-wide guidelines for physical activity published in 2019 state that adults (19-64 years) should undertake 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week (UK Chief Medical Officers Guidelines Writing Group, 2019). However, a large percentage of adults do not achieve the recommended levels of aerobic physical activity; 34.1% of adults in England failed to meet the guidelines in 2020-2021 (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), 2022), and 54% of adults in Scotland in 2020 (Scottish Government, 2021).

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting British Journal of Nursing and reading some of our peer-reviewed resources for nurses. To read more, please register today. You’ll enjoy the following great benefits:

What's included

  • Limited access to clinical or professional articles

  • Unlimited access to the latest news, blogs and video content