A randomised control trial of experiential learning to promote physical activity

Philip A Cooke, Mark A Tully, Margaret E Cupples, Andrew E Gilliland, Gerard J Gormley

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11 Citations (Scopus)



The paucity of training in physical activity (PA) promotion in UK medical schools is a barrier to health professionals’ promotion of PA to their patients. Doctors who are more physically active are more likely to counsel patients in this regard. We used a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to examine the effect of an intervention which engaged students in goal-setting, using pedometer step counts, on their PA behaviour and intentions to promote PA in future practice.


We invited fourth-year medical students to participate in the study during their four-week placement in primary care. Following baseline pedometer measurement of daily step counts for one week, students were randomly allocated to intervention (individual step count goal-setting) or control groups. Using pedometers, both groups monitored their PA during the following week. Intentions to promote PA were assessed using a questionnaire based on the theory of planned behaviour at baseline, four weeks and nine weeks. Focus groups explored the students’ experiences of PA measurement, goalsetting for behaviour change and health promotion teaching.


One-hundred and thirty-six students participated (70 intervention; 66 control). The mean change in daily step count was greater (P=0.001) in the intervention group (1245, 95% CI 762 to 1727) than in the control group (–65, 95% CI –644 to 573). Scores for perceived behavioural control over PA counselling increased in both groups, with a trend for higher scores in the intervention group. Intervention group students described how experience of personal PA behaviour change gave insights into barriers patients may face and improved their confidence in PA counselling.


Medical students’ personal experience of goal setting in increasing PA appears to lead to a more positive perception of their ability to deliver effective PA promotion in future practice. Inclusion of this learning experience within the undergraduate curriculum may improve doctors’ skills in health promotion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-435
JournalEducation for primary care
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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