Telephone-based support for physical activity: Results and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic

Academic Article


  • Physical activity is essential to maintain physical and mental well-being. During the COVID- 19 pandemic, in-person physical activity opportunities were limited. This paper describes a telephone-based physical activity support strategy among racially/ethnically diverse patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adult patients at a large, Federally Qualified Health Center with an on-site exercise facility referral were eligible to transition to telephone support with personal fitness advisors during the pandemic stay-at-home orders. Baseline surveys assessed physical activity and environmental characteristics; follow-up phone calls used motivational interviewing and physical activity goal setting strategies. From March 23-July 23, 2020, 72 patients participated in 270 phone calls, or 3.8 (±2.1) calls per participant. Participants were, on average, aged 51.3 (±11.6) years, 87.5% female, 31.9% Hispanic/Latino, and 47.2% non-Hispanic Black. Patients meeting physical activity guidelines pre-pandemic reported more planned exercise (100.0% vs. 55.3%; p<0.001), exercise days at home (5.0 vs. 1.7; p<0.001), and accomplishment of personal physical activity goals (57.0% vs. 39.7%; p = 0.11) than patients not meeting guidelines pre-pandemic. Patients with a home treadmill participated in twice the rate of calls compared to those without (RR = 2.22; 95% CI:1.35,3.64), but no other home environmental characteristics predicted participation rate. Pre-pandemic physical activity behavior appeared to predict pandemic physical activity and telephone-based physical activity support was effective for maintaining physical activity for some participants. Long term applications of this work will support continuity of clinic-community partnerships for health behavior change and provide a model for patient physical activity support by community health centers without on-site exercise facilities.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • PLoS One  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Ylitalo KR; Cox W; Lucas R; Smith J; Gabriel KP; Rafalski M; Gill J; Niceler B
  • Volume

  • 17
  • Issue

  • 5 May