Background: Although physical activity is important for the prevention and management of a variety of common chronic diseases, the prevalence and patient and visit characteristics associated with provision of physical activity advice by community family physicians is not well understood. Methods: In a cross-sectional multi-method study of 138 family physicians in northeast Ohio, exercise advice was measured by direct observation and patient report of consecutive patient visits to 138 practicing family physicians. The association of exercise advice with patient and visit characteristics, assessed by direct observation, medical record review, patient exit questionnaire, and billing data, was determined by logistic regression analysis.Results: In 4215 visits by patients older than 2 years of age, exercise counseling was observed during 927 visits (22.3%), but reported by only 13% of patients returning questionnaires. The mean time spent counseling about exercise was 0.78 minutes, with a range of 0.33 to 6.00 minutes (SD = 0.67). Exercise advice was more common during longer visits, visits for well care, and visits by patients who were older, male, and had chronic illnesses for which lack of physical activity is a risk factor.Conclusions: Exercise counseling is relatively common during outpatient visits to family physicians, and is more commonly given to patients with risk factors. Multiple patient visits over time present opportunities to integrate exercise counseling among the competing demands of primary care practice. Copyright (C) 1999 American Journal of Preventive Medicine.