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If exercise is medicine, why don’t we know the dose? An overview of systematic reviews assessing reporting quality of exercise interventions in health and disease
  1. Harrison J Hansford1,2,
  2. Michael A Wewege1,2,
  3. Aidan G Cashin1,2,
  4. Amanda D Hagstrom1,
  5. Briana K Clifford1,3,
  6. James H McAuley1,2,
  7. Matthew D Jones1,2
  1. 1School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Pain IMPACT, Neuroscience Research Australia, Randwick, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Matthew D Jones, School of Health Sciences, Wallace Wurth Building, UNSW Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; matthew.jones{at}


Objective To determine how well exercise interventions are reported in trials in health and disease.

Design Overview of systematic reviews.

Data sources PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus and PsycINFO from inception until June 2021.

Eligibility criteria Reviews of any health condition were included if they primarily assessed quality of exercise intervention reporting using the Consensus on Exercise Reporting Template (CERT) or the Template for Intervention Description and Replication (TIDieR). We assessed review quality using a modified version of A MeaSurement Tool to Assess systematic Reviews.

Results We identified 7804 studies and included 28 systematic reviews. The median (IQR) percentage of CERT and TIDieR items appropriately reported was 24% (19%) and 49% (33%), respectively. TIDieR items 1, Brief name (median=100%, IQR 4) and 2, Why (median=98%, IQR 6), as well as CERT item 4, Supervision and delivery (median=68%, IQR 89), were the best reported. For replication of exercise interventions, TIDieR item 8, When and how much, was moderately well reported (median=62%, IQR 68) although CERT item 8, Description of each exercise to enable replication (median=23%, IQR 44) and item 13, Detailed description of the exercise intervention (median=24%, IQR 66) were poorly reported. Quality of systematic reviews ranged from moderate to critically low quality.

Conclusion Exercise interventions are poorly reported across a range of health conditions. If exercise is medicine, then how it is prescribed and delivered is unclear, potentially limiting its translation from research to practice.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42021261285; Open Science Framework:

  • exercise
  • methods
  • research
  • sports medicine

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  • Twitter @HJHansford, @AidanCashin, @ADHagstrom, @pain_neura, @Mattjones0203

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it published Online First. Author names have been updated.

  • Contributors MDJ is the guarantor and conceived the study. HJH and MDJ wrote the first draft of the protocol and manuscript. HJH, MAW, AGC and MDJ conducted article screening. HJH, MAW, AGC, AH, BKC and MDJ extracted data. MDJ assisted in interpreting the data. HJH conducted data analysis. All authors contributed importantly to the content and style of the protocol and manuscript. All authors approved the final version.

  • Funding MAW was supported by a Postgraduate Scholarship from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, a School of Medical Sciences Top-Up Scholarship from the University of New South Wales, and a PhD Supplementary Scholarship from Neuroscience Research Australia.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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