Background: There are considerable inter-individual differences in the direction and degree of change in physical activity (PA) levels during the retirement transition. There is currently a limited theoretical understanding of how these differences can be explained. This study aimed to explore and compare perceptions about how theory-based factors influence PA change during the transition from employment to retirement among individuals approaching retirement and recently retired.
Methods: Theory-based, one-to-one, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 28 adults (15 retired) within 24 months of retirement. Participants were sampled to reflect a diverse range of socio-economic and occupational backgrounds. The interview was based on the 12 domains within the Theory Domain Framework and designed to elicit anticipated or experienced retirement-related changes in PA behaviour and perceived determinants. Interview transcripts were analysed using Framework analysis to explore intra- and inter-individual perceptions of how PA changes after retirement and the factors which may influence this change.
Results: The majority of participants perceived retirement to be related to an increase in PA levels. Four themes emerged from the data regarding factors perceived to influence changes in PA behaviour after retirement: (1) resources for PA; (2) structure of daily life in retirement; (3) opportunities for PA; and (4) transitional PA phases after retirement. Retirement is associated with a number of inter-related changes and opportunities which can have a positive or negative impact on PA behaviour. The influence of these factors does not appear to be static and may change over time. A number of different transitional phases may be experienced after leaving work and each phase may have a differential impact on PA behaviour.
Conclusions: The findings of this qualitative study contribute to the theoretical understanding of PA change during the retirement transition. Each post-retirement PA trajectory is highly individual and personalised intervention approaches to increase PA during the retirement transition may be most successful. Future research should focus on the maintenance of PA change during the retirement transition and should develop and evaluate interventions to promote and maintain PA during retirement.