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Steps to a better Belfast: physical activity assessment and promotion in primary care
  1. Neil Heron1,2,
  2. Mark A Tully2,3,
  3. Michelle C McKinley2,3,
  4. Margaret E Cupples1,2,3
  1. 1Department of General Practice and Primary Care, Queen's University, Belfast, Antrim, UK
  2. 2Centre for Public Health Research, Queen's University, Belfast, Antrim, UK
  3. 3UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research (NI), Queen's University, Belfast, Antrim, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Neil Heron, Department of General Practice and Primary Care, Queen's University, Dunluce Health Centre, Level 4, 1 Dunluce Avenue, Belfast BT9 7HR,UK; n.heron02{at}


Background Low physical activity (PA) levels which increase the risk of chronic disease are reported by two-thirds of the general UK population. Promotion of PA by primary healthcare professionals is advocated but more evidence is needed regarding effective ways of integrating this within everyday practice. This study aims to explore the feasibility of a randomised trial of a pedometer-based intervention, using step-count goals, recruiting patients from primary care.

Method Patients, aged 35–75, attending four practices in socioeconomically deprived areas, were invited to complete a General Practice PA Questionnaire during routine consultations. Health professionals invited ‘inactive’ individuals to a pedometer-based intervention and were randomly allocated to group 1 (prescribed a self-determined goal) or group 2 (prescribed a specific goal of 2500 steps/day above baseline). Both groups kept step-count diaries and received telephone follow-up at 1, 2, 6 and 11 weeks. Step counts were reassessed after 12 weeks.

Results Of the 2154 patients attending, 192 questionnaires were completed (8.9%). Of these, 83 were classified as ‘inactive’; 41(10 men; 31 women) completed baseline assessments, with the mean age of participants being 51 years. Mean baseline step counts were similar in group 1 (5685, SD 2945) and group 2 (6513, SD 3350). The mean increase in steps/day was greater in groups 1 than 2 ((2602, SD 1957) vs (748, SD 1997) p=0.005).

Conclusions A trial of a pedometer-based intervention using self-determined step counts appears feasible in primary care. Pedometers appear acceptable to women, particularly at a perimenopausal age, when it is important to engage in impact loading activities such as walking to maintain bone mineral density. An increase of 2500 steps/day is achievable for inactive patients, but the effectiveness of different approaches to realistic goal-setting warrants further study.

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