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Behavioral and Social Approaches to Increase Physical Activity: Social Support Interventions in Community Settings

These social support interventions focus on changing physical activity behavior through building, strengthening, and maintaining social networks that provide supportive relationships for behavior change (e.g., setting up a buddy system, making contracts with others to complete specified levels of physical activity, or setting up walking groups or other groups to provide friendship and support).

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends implementing efforts made in community settings to provide social support for increasing physical activity based on strong evidence of their effectiveness in increasing physical activity and improving physical fitness among adults.

Task Force Finding

Results from the Systematic Reviews

Nine studies qualified for review.

  • In all nine studies reviewed, social support interventions in community settings were effective in getting people to be more physically active, as measured by various indicators (e.g., blocks walked or flights of stairs climbed daily, frequency of attending exercise sessions, or minutes spent in physical activity).
    • Time spent being physically active: median increase of 44.2% (Interquartile interval [IQI]: 19.9% to 45.6%; 5 study arms)
    • Frequency of physical activity: median increase of 19.6% (IQI: 14.6% to 57.6%; 6 study arms)
    • Aerobic capacity: median net increase in of 4.7% (IQI: 3.3% to 6.1%; 5 study arms)
    • One study found that those who received more frequent support were more active than those who received less frequent support, although both highly structured and less formal support were equally effective.
  • These interventions also improved participants’ fitness levels, lowered their percentage of body fat, increased their knowledge about exercise, and improved their confidence in their ability to exercise.
  • Interventions included in the review involved either creating new social networks or working within existing networks in a social setting outside the family, such as in the workplace.
  • These interventions were effective in various settings including communities, worksites, and universities, among men and women, adults of different ages, and both sedentary people and those who were already active.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to increasing physical activity.

Supporting Materials


Kahn EB, Ramsey LT, Brownson R, et al. The effectiveness of interventions to increase physical activity: a systematic review. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 3.14 MB] Am J Prev Med 2002;22(4S):73-107.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Recommendations to increase physical activity in communities. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 70 kB] Am J Prev Med 2002;22 (4S):67-72.

CDC. Increasing physical activity. A report on recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR 2001;50 (RR-18):1-16. External Web Site Icon

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Physical activity. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 302 kB] In : Zaza S, Briss PA, Harris KW, eds. The Guide to Community Preventive Services: What Works to Promote Health? Atlanta (GA): Oxford University Press;2005:80-113.

Read other Community Guide publications about Increasing Physical Activity in our library.

Promotional Materials

Action Guides

More promotional materials for Community Guide reviews about increasing physical activity through behavioral and social approaches.


The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Behavioral and social approaches to increase physical activity: social support interventions in community settings. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: February 2001