Background. Physical inactivity is recognized as an important public health issue. Yet little is known about doctors' knowledge, attitude, skills, and resources specifically relating to the promotion of physical activity. Our survey assessed the current practice, perceived desirable practice, confidence, and barriers related to the promotion of physical activity in family practice,Methods. A questionnaire was developed and distributed to all 1,228 family practitioners in Perth, Western Australia.Results. We received a 71% response (n = 789). Family practitioners are most likely to recommend walking to sedentary adults to improve fitness and they are aware of the major barriers to patients participating in physical activity. Doctors are less confident at providing specific advice on exercise and may require further skills, knowledge, and experience, Although they promote exercise to patients through verbal advice in the consultation, few use written materials or referral systems,Conclusions. There are significant differences between self-reports of current practice and perceived desirable practice in the promotion of physical activity by doctors, Future strategies need to address the self-efficacy of family physicians and involve resources of proven effectiveness. The potential of referral systems for supporting efforts to increase physical activity by Australians should be explored. (C) 1997 Academic Press.