There is increasing recognition, both globally and in the UK, of the need to promote healthier lifestyles and improve physical activity levels in order to reduce premature mortality and morbidity from chronic diseases. In the UK, there is a considerable public health burden due to physical inactivity; in 2003-2004 researchers found that physical inactivity was responsible for 3.1% morbidity and mortality.

Primary care has been recognised as a potentially important setting for the promotion of physical activity. During routine consultations primary healthcare professionals may promote physical activity by either recommending patients become more habitually active or by referring patients to a dedicated physical activity programme.

With respect to the latter, one of the most popular approaches to promoting physical activity in the primary care setting has been through exercise referral schemes. In the UK these schemes are widespread and form an important part of the interface between healthcare practitioners, health promotion/public health specialists, leisure providers, exercise professionals and commissioners.