Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Targeting physical activity promotion in general practice: Characteristics of inactive patients and willingness to change

Gonzalo Grandes16*, Alvaro Sánchez1, Jesús Torcal2, Ricardo Ortega Sánchez-Pinilla3, Kepa Lizarraga4, Javier Serra4 and The PEPAF Group5

Author Affiliations

1 Primary Care Research Unit of Bizkaia, Basque Health Service, Bilbao, Spain

2 Basauri-Ariz Health Centre, Basque Health Service, Basauri, Spain

3 Santa Bárbara Health Centre, Castilla La Mancha Health Service, Toledo, Spain

4 Sports Medicine Service of the Bizkaia's Provincial Administration, Bilbao, Spain

5 Preventive Services and Health Promotion Research Network -redIAPP-, Spain

6 Unidad de Investigación de Atención Primaria de Bizkaia, Osakidetza, Luis Power 18, 4a planta. 48014 – Bilbao, Spain

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:172  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-172

Published: 22 May 2008



Counselling in routine general practice to promote physical activity (PA) is advocated, but inadequate evidence is available to support this intervention, and its sustainable implementation over time is difficult.


To describe the characteristics of physically inactive adults visiting GPs and the factors associated with their willingness to change PA.


A cross-sectional analysis of 4317 Spanish people aged 20–80 years, selected by systematic sampling among those attending 56 public primary health care practices identified as inactive by their GPs in 2003. PA (7-day PAR), PA stage of change, health-related quality of life (SF-36), cardiovascular risk factors, and social and demographic characteristics were measured. Multivariate mixed effects ordinal logistic models were adjusted to identify factors associated with motivational readiness to change.


At least 70% (95% CI: 67.6% to 72.8%) of patients assessed by GPs did not achieve minimal PA recommendations. In addition, 85% (95% CI: 83% to 86.3%) had at least an additional cardiovascular risk factor. Only 30% (95% CI: 25.8% to 33.5%) were prepared for or attempting a change. A younger age; retirement or work at home; higher education and social class levels; obesity; and hypertension were associated with a higher motivational readiness to change (p < 0.05).


The overburden that would result from counselling such a high proportion of inactive primary care patients justifies a targeted strategy for PA promotion in family practice. Selection of a target population based on readiness to change, the combination of risk factors and socio-demographic characteristics of patients is suggested in order to prioritise promotion efforts.