Background: The SITLESS programme comprises exercise referral schemes and self-management strategies and has been evaluated in a trial in Denmark, Spain, Germany and Northern Ireland. The aim of this qualitative study was to understand the implementation and contextual aspects of the intervention in relation to the mechanisms of impact and to explore the perceived effects.
Methods: Qualitative methodologies were nested in the SITLESS trial including 71 individual interviews and 12 focus groups targeting intervention and control group participants from postintervention to 18-month follow-up in all intervention sites based on a semi-structured topic guide.
Results: Overarching themes were identified under the framework categories of context, implementation, mechanisms of impact and perceived effects. The findings highlight the perceived barriers and facilitators to older adults' engagement in exercise referral schemes. Social interaction and enjoyment through the group-based programmes are key components to promote adherence and encourage the maintenance of targeted behaviours through peer support and connectedness. Exit strategies and signposting to relevant classes and facilities enabled the maintenance of positive lifestyle behaviours.
Conclusions: When designing and implementing interventions, key components enhancing social interaction, enjoyment and continuity should be in place in order to successfully promote sustained behaviour change.
Keywords: ageing; behaviour change; exercise referral schemes; physical activity; qualitative study; sedentary behaviour.