Background: To date, no physical activity (PA) questionnaires intended for primary care have been compared against a criterion measure of PA and current (2008) aerobic PA recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine/American Heart Association (ACSM/AHA). Aim: This study evaluated preliminary evidence for criterion validity of two brief (<1 min) PA questionnaires with accelerometry, and their ability to identify if individuals meet ACSM/AHA PA recommendations. Methods: 45 health clinic staff wore an accelerometer for seven consecutive days and afterwards completed two brief PA questionnaires, the Physical Activity Vital Sign (PAVS), and the Speedy Nutrition and Physical Activity Assessment (SNAP). Agreement and descriptive statistics were calculated between the PAVS or SNAP and accelerometry in order to measure each questionnaire’s ability to quantify the number of days participants achieved ⩾30 min of moderate–vigorous PA (MVPA) performed in bouts of ⩾10 continuous minutes. Participants with <5 days of ⩾30 bout-min of MVPA were considered insufficiently active according to PA recommendations. Findings: There was a significant positive correlation between number of days with ⩾30 bout-min MVPA and the PAVS (r=0.52, P<0.001), and SNAP (r=0.31, P<0.05). The PAVS had moderate agreement with accelerometry for identifying if individuals met or did not meet PA recommendations (κ=0.46, P<0.001), whereas SNAP had poor agreement (κ=0.12, P<0.05). Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence of criterion validity of the PAVS and SNAP with accelerometry and agreement identifying if respondents meet current (2008) ACSM/AHA aerobic PA recommendations. The PAVS and SNAP should be evaluated further for repeatability, and in populations varying in PA levels, age, gender, and ethnicity.