While some people may need a personal trainer to get fit, a new study suggests that a little health advice over the phone can also do the trick.
In a review of 26 studies on telephone health counseling, Australian researchers found that most showed the tactic to be successful. In more than three-quarters of the studies, phone advice from nurses or other counselors helped men and women improve their eating and exercise habits.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, are good news for people who can't or won't join a formal group activity, according to the study authors.
"It shows that support for physical activity and dietary change can come from a variety of mechanisms," lead author Dr. Elizabeth Eakin, a researcher at the University of Queensland, said in a statement. "This is great news for people who don't want to join a more structured group program or who don't have access."
For their study, Eakin and her colleagues reviewed 26 clinical trials conducted since the 1990s that looked at the effects of telephone counseling on adults' diet and exercise routines. In most studies, the phone advice was part of an overall program that also included some other type of education, like face-to-face counseling, classes or written materials.
The phone calls were designed to give study participants "real-time" advice, helping them get over hurdles to making lifestyle changes or to set new goals for themselves.
Overall, the review found, 77 percent of the studies showed that people who received phone counseling made improvements in their eating and exercise habits.
It did take some effort, however; the telephone strategy was most successful when it was paired with face-to-face help, and long-term counseling -- more than 6 months -- was more effective than short-term help.