Exploring non-participation in primary care physical activity interventions: PACE-UP trial interview findings

Rebecca Normansell, Rebecca Holmes, Christina Victor, Derek G Cook, Sally Kerry, Steve Iliffe, Michael Ussher, Julia Fox-Rushby, Peter Whincup, Tess Harris

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Trials in primary care to increase physical activity (PA) typically experience poor recruitment rates and may not recruit those with lower PA levels and who are most in need of the intervention. Despite the well-publicised benefits of physical activity, the majority of adults in the UK remain inactive and, therefore, at greater risk of many health problems. Our aim was to investigate the reasons for non-participation in the PACE-UP trial, which is a primary care pedometer-based walking intervention. This is important for successful recruitment and retention in future PA trials and programmes.

We conducted semi-structured audio-recorded telephone interviews with 30 participants, aged 45–75 years, purposively sampled from those declining participation in the PACE-UP trial. Recruitment continued until data saturation and a demographically balanced sample was achieved. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded and subjected to thematic analysis.

Interviewees supported walking as suitable exercise for most people in this age group, recognised the importance of this type of research and general practice as an appropriate setting. Key reasons for declining were: the perception of being already ‘too active’; existing medical conditions; work; travel and other commitments. Less frequently cited reasons included reluctance to be randomised, the intervention’s duration, wearing a pedometer, perceived inappropriateness of trial literature and a preference for a different kind of PA or for a group activity.

Whilst most interviewees perceived themselves to be sufficiently active, an important minority did not participate due to existing medical conditions and other commitments. Recruitment to future PA trials might be improved by tailoring activity to compensate for medical problems, and adapting PA interventions to fit around work and travel commitments. Ensuring that patient-targeted literature is succinct and inclusive and that equipment is user-friendly are also important. Primary care is seen as an appropriate setting for PA trials and programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number178
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


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