Physical inactivity and related diseases are of global public health concern. In many developing countries, levels of health promoting physical activity (PA) are falling despite government initiatives. Previous work has identified that periods of transition across a life course, or 'life-change events' have implications for drop out from PA. As yet, there has been little work to understand the life course as a whole and to furnish a complete list of possible life changes that might affect participation in PA. Our paper presents a review of the published literature in which life events have been studied in relation to their effect on participation in PA. A literature search was conducted for papers published between 1977 and April 2007 and referenced in Pubmed. Papers were reviewed if they; reported the effect of a life-change event; had PA as an outcome; reported results in English; and reported results from observational studies. The references for studies identified during this first phase were searched for further papers. Eighty-seven papers were identified as potentially relevant on the basis of title, of which 19 papers met the inclusion criteria on the basis of full text. Five life changes were identified; change in employment status; change in residence; change in physical status; change in relationships; and change in family structure. It was noted that few longitudinal studies examined PA both before and after a life event. A list of possible life events which might effect participation in PA is presented. This paper represents a first step towards a detailed programme of work on life-change events and PA.