Home » How European Fans in Training (EuroFIT), a lifestyle change program for men delivered in football clubs, achieved its effect: a mixed methods process evaluation embedded in a randomised controlled trial – BMC Public Health

How European Fans in Training (EuroFIT), a lifestyle change program for men delivered in football clubs, achieved its effect: a mixed methods process evaluation embedded in a randomised controlled trial – BMC Public Health

A summary of response rates by method can be found in Table 2. We present results in relation to the research objectives, organised around the two research questions: 1) how was implementation achieved in football clubs and countries, and what was delivered? 2) what were the processes through which the EuroFIT program affected outcomes? In each section, we also report on whether aspects of the theory of change were supported and any differences between countries which might be indicative of country-specific contexts to affect outcomes and the final column of Table 1 shows results of data triangulation in relation to agreement, dissonance and areas of silence across the datasets in relation to each objective.

Table 2 Response rates for survey and qualitative methods

Qualitative data extracts are labelled to indicate participant ID (P (participant); C (coach); and (club representative)), club (NOR1-3, UK1-5, POR1-3, NL1-4) and data source (PPFGD [post-program focus group], 12MFGD [12-month focus group], OBS [observations], INT [interview]. Additional examples from the qualitative data can be found in Additional File 1, which presents qualitative extracts in relation to the theory of change in more detail.

How was implementation achieved, what was delivered and by whom?

Recruitment of clubs and coaches and experiences of coach training (objective 1, 2, 3 and 15 Table 1; element of theory of change—resources).

Using research team members’ professional networks, we successfully recruited 15 clubs from four countries to deliver the EuroFIT program. Study implementation notes recorded that three clubs pulled out between initial approach and commencement of training, one in Norway and two in the Netherlands. Despite research funding paying for delivery, financial difficulties and changes in club priorities regarding community engagement as reasons for withdrawal. Using research team members’ networks, it proved possible to replace these clubs within the study timeline.

Analysis of study implementation notes and interviews showed agreement that the clubs co-operated well with the research team throughout the study. All 15 participating clubs sent at least two coaches for two-days of training to deliver EuroFIT program, which was conducted in each country by members of the research team who had been involved in the development of the program. Most of the coaches were male (21/30, 70%) and aged between 19 and 56. Most were experienced football coaches, and some had additional health and fitness qualifications. In Norway and some clubs in the Netherlands some coaches were not club staff but were employed specifically to deliver EuroFIT on a sessional basis.

Analysis of interview data showed that coaches were generally positive about the training they received and felt it prepared them to use the tools they needed to be able to deliver the EuroFIT program. For example, one said:

“I liked the fact that we received a lot of relevant information. It gave me the confidence I needed. I wouldn’t have been the same with a manual only. I liked having the information up front, so I felt I knew what I was saying. It was good. Was positive. A good combination of theory and practice.” [C-NL1-INT]

However, analysis of study implementation notes showed a high turnover of coaching staff at some clubs in the UK with some of the coaches originally trained to deliver to program leaving their posts before delivery or part-way through the program. As a result, the research team had to develop bespoke interim training (which took one instead of two days) for new UK-based coaches.

In relation to the theory of change, the relational resources described as necessary for program delivery, were available in all countries, as were the financial resources (because they were covered by the research grant). We recruited clubs through professional networks, although additional efforts were needed to replace clubs that dropped out of the study in the Netherlands and Norway.

Attracting men to the program (objective 4, Table 1; element of theory of change – attract men).

To recruit participants, football clubs e-mailed invitations to fans and used club websites, social media posts, features in the local press, and match-day leafleting/announcements to advertise the program [8]. Recruitment materials emphasised that the program took place in the football club, asking, “Do you want to become more active with [club name]? “and explained that “EuroFIT aims to help you increase your physical activity levels and to be less sedentary. The program will offer you a toolbox of skills and techniques for living a healthy life and a chance to get fitter and feel better in yourself.” Materials also highlighted that the program would be interactive, led by club coaches, and that they would be with like-minded people, saying; “Each session includes physical activity led by [CLUB] coaches at [YOUR STADIUM/TRAINING GROUND] as well as focusing on how to incorporate new skills and techniques into your everyday life. The sessions will also offer you the opportunity to meet like-minded people and share tips and advice.”

Data from expressions of interest forms showed that advertisements proved attractive to men wanting to join the program particularly in the UK and Portugal. The mean number of men per club expressing an interest in joining was 200.2 (155–272) in the UK, 121.0 (87–187) in the Netherlands, 155.3 (128–205) in Norway, and 441.0 (333–616) in Portugal. In every club, expressions of interest exceeded the number of places available (N = 80), with the Portuguese clubs attracting particularly high levels of interest.

In relation to the theory of change, the approach to attracting men which emphasized gaining fitness, being based in the club, and reassuring men they would not ‘stand out’ – i.e. they would be with like-minded men—proved successful in all countries, but especially in Portugal and the UK.

Participation in the EuroFIT program and the reported use of SitFIT and MatchFIT (objective 5, Table 1; element of theory of change initiate change).

Coach-reported mean attendance at the 12 EuroFIT sessions was comparable across the four countries: 8.7 sessions (SD 3.3) out of 12 sessions in the UK, 9.8 (SD 2.5) in the Netherlands, 8.1 (SD 3.0) in Norway and 8.7 (SD 3.2) in Portugal. Analysis of post program questionnaires showed, as reported previously [8], 65.0% of participants said they used the SitFIT ‘a great deal’ (score 4 on a scale of 0–4) and only 36.8% reported they used MatchFIT ‘a great deal’. SitFIT and MatchFIT usage logs suggest that 341/560 (60.8%) successfully uploaded SitFIT data to the server (suggesting agreement with self-reported data) and 359/560 (64.1%) registered for MatchFIT.

In relation to the theory of change, we presumed that regular attendance at the program would be necessary to initiate change, and that use of SitFIT and MatchFIT would enhance engagement. The data suggest a good level of attendance and use of SitFIT as expected.

Number and key elements of the sessions delivered and extent to which coaches delivered EuroFIT as intended (objectives 6 and 7, Table 1; element of theory of change – initiate and maintain change).

As reported previously, [8] fidelity of delivery was good: we observed deliveries of the fourth of 12 sessions in 14/15 clubs and in these, coaches delivered 221 of 252 (88%) key tasks. Analysis of data from interviews with coaches agreed with those from observations. Coach training had encouraged flexibility in session delivery to suit the coaches’ own styles and the needs of the different groups, whilst retaining the core elements of the program and adhering to the principles of valuing men, supporting autonomy and positive interaction. Coaches from the Netherlands, UK and Norway, in particular described how they made adaptations to suit the needs of their group and/or the facilities available at their club (particularly for physical activity). In the Netherlands and UK, coaches reported changing the physical activity sessions to involve higher intensity activities (usually football instead of walking football), as they felt men were expecting more intense physical activity from the outset. However, some coaches also described omitting content. For example:

“I did not do the thing, filling the glasses you know [part of a suggested activity to enhance visual representation of sugar sweetened beverages in a food-related session]. I looked at the group and knew they would not be interested in these glasses and discussing how many lumps of sugar would be in them, well you know. This pouring, it doesn’t fit with this group.” [C-NL1-INT]

In relation to the theory of change, we presumed that fidelity in delivery would be important to initiate and maintain change and thus to achieve outcomes. Based on the analysis we can say that the program was largely delivered as intended because most of the key elements were delivered in the observed sessions and coaches described situations in which they were adapted the content to deliver flexibly as intended.

What were the processes through which the EuroFIT program affected outcomes?

Participants’ reported reasons for joining, continuing with or opting out of the EuroFIT program (objective 8, Table 1; element of theory of change – attract men).

We have reported above that advertisements proved attractive to men wanting to join EuroFIT, particularly in the UK and Portugal. Figure 2 shows that the most cited reasons in baseline questionnaires were: to get fitter (91.3%), to lose weight (87.3%) and to improve lifestyle (74.5%). Data from focus group discussions were consistent with this. For example, one Dutch participant said:

‘So yes, I had purely looked at that, I just had something like well, there was no guarantee that you would lose weight, but you are going to exercise more, eat differently so you will get rid of some kilos. Well, that was the reason for me to start.’ [P-NL1-PPFGD]

Fig. 2

Self-reported reasons for joining EuroFIT

The importance of the club was reported as a factor by more men in the UK (40.6%) and Portugal (46.8%), than in the Netherlands (24.3%) and Norway (26.2%). This did not resonate with the post-program focus groups, which all mentioned the importance of the club as a draw. For example, in the Netherlands, one man explained how getting privileged access to valued parts of their club attracted him:

It is still your team where you’ve been going to for years and normally you don’t get to go onto that football field. And now you are allowed to enter the field and train some more and the support you get. That’s just really important.’ [P-NL1-PPFGD]

In the baseline questionnaires, participants in Norway (46.9%) and the UK (34.7%) were more likely to report that being with men ‘like them’ was a reason for joining than participants in the Netherlands (12.9%) and Portugal (15.0%). Again, there was some dissonance between questionnaire and focus group data, with examples of wanting to be with men ‘like them’ emerging in focus groups in the UK, Netherlands, and Portugal. For example, in a post program discussion in one UK club, participants agreed why they were attracted to EuroFIT:

P6:Meet similar people as well.

I:Yeah.

P6:The same age group, same interests and, you know, perhaps eating too many beefburgers and having too many pints [of beer], um, being able to relate and move forward together as a group. [P-UK5-PPFGD].

In the Netherlands, the importance of the program being men only was emphasised: ‘I was thinking about that actually …. That it was only men [–-] If there had been women I wouldn’t have joined.’ [P-NL3-PPFGD]. In Portugal too, one man suggested: ‘I liked the idea of being with other men of my age and condition’ [P-PT1-PFGD].

In relation to the theory of change, the assumption of multiple motivations for joining the program proved correct, with men in all countries commonly citing ‘weight loss’, ‘desire to improve lifestyle’ and ‘getting fitter’ as reasons to join and there was agreement between data sets (see also Additional File 1). Assumptions in the theory of change about the appeal of the club were confirmed in the UK and Portugal with less evidence of its importance in the Netherlands and Norway. Similarly, assumptions about the appeal of being with others ‘like them’ were confirmed in the UK and Norway, with less evidence in the Netherlands and Portugal.

Interaction between men, and between men and coaches, during the program (objective 9, Table 1; element of theory of change – attract men and initiate change).

We expected that interactions between men, and between coaches and men, would be important for group cohesion and success. The theory of change (Fig. 1) suggested that interactions with the coaches would make men feel valued and would provide support in ways consistent with masculine identities (for example, by using ‘football talk’). Session observations suggested that coaches in all four countries did encourage men to feel that their participation in EuroFIT was valued. This was made most visible through the informal ‘small talk’ (often about football) that occurred between men and coaches before the sessions began, which demonstrated a commitment to building relationships. For example, an observation in the Netherlands recorded that:

The coach then asks: “Have you guys been to the match?” “Yes,” said one of the men, “it was spectacular.” “I know right?” said the coach, “I saw you there!” “Yes, 4–3 hey?!”’ (OBS-NL1)

The way coaches valued participants was also made evident through ‘grand gestures.’ For example, in one club in the UK, a coach gave a teddy bear to a man who had just had a child. Participants in all four countries also commented on these exchanges and the welcoming nature of coaches (see Additional File 1).

The theory of change also suggested that encouraging and enabling interactions between men themselves would mean that sharing experiences would support change and that participants would enjoy the sessions and thus keep coming. In all four countries observations demonstrated that coaches encouraged interactions and men enjoyed being at the sessions. In the classroom-based sessions men shared stories of their successes, which were met with positive feedback from other men. They also reflected on more challenging experiences they had faced, when other men offered support in return:

A man who has had a visitor from [another] office tells the group of the struggle he had:

“I can’t get into my rhythm, you know, what I want to do. I have to take him to dinner and things. I’ve been good, but it’s still tougher than it should be.”

Other men sympathise and a discussion about how he might cope with such responsibilities in the future is started. Suggestions from other men include: planning the restaurants that he will take his visitor to in advance and pre-choosing his meals to avoid making impulsive decisions; tell visitors that you are eating healthily; eat carefully when you do have freedom to choose e.g., breakfast, snacks and packed lunch; and to make sure that you have at least one nice dinner. [OBS-UK3]

Similar supportive interactions were observed in the physical activity parts of the sessions. Although participants were often keen to do ‘better’ than other clubs in the program, there was no evidence of competition between men in the same group where interactions were supportive.

Men’s enjoyment of the program was evidenced by observations that men’s interactions were often interspersed with jokes and banter, which contributed to the supportive environment, the fostering of relatedness and enjoyment of sessions. For example, observation of a physical activity session in the Netherlands recorded:

‘Now the men have to walk on their toes and make themselves as long as possible with their arms in the air. The string of men walk along the lines on their toes with their hands in the air. “Oh beautiful, Swan Lake!”, says the man with the bruised ribs from the sidelines.’ (OBS-NL3)

In summary, in relation to the theory of change, the observations of sessions confirmed the assumptions we made about the importance of positive interactions in delivering outcomes (see also Additional File 1). Coaches’ interactions with men made them feel valued, and men’s supportive, humorous interactions with each other made the program both enjoyable and potentially motivational.

Coaches’ use of the program manual and experience of delivering the program (objective 10 and 11, Table 1; element of theory of change initiate and maintain change).

Our theory of change made the coaches’ role explicit only in relation to how they interacted with men and how they encouraged interactions. Implicit to the theory of change, however, is that coaches, through following the program manual and being well prepared for sessions, would be crucial in providing an excellent motivational environment to support change [18] which included teaching participants the skills embedded in the ‘toolbox’ of BCTs.

In interviews, coaches in all countries reported that they found the manual essential for delivering the program. For example, a coach in the Netherlands said: “The coach manual was very handy. It was really nice to have these clear instructions” [C-NL4-INT].

There was agreement between the observations and interviews that coaches did teach participants how to use of the ‘toolbox’ of BCTs. For example, a coach in Norway said:

Along with the other tools, then the SMART-goals have also been very good indeed, and those you link with the SitFIT and MatchFIT, and that is like, that you get to link those tools together has been a very good method [C-NOR2-INT]

Many of the coaches played an important role in the repetition and practice of BCTs, and prompted men to set optimal challenges for themselves, building on their own progress, as one coach from the UK explained:

Sometimes, the guys trying to make big targets, we’d try and calm them down. Which, again, the [training emphasised] you need to do that, erm, which, which definitely is good advice. Erm, so yeah, I think goal setting is very important. The guys did stick to it. [C-UK1-INT]

However, other coach interviews showed that it could be hard to explain goal setting to participants, as one Dutch coach explained:

“I think they also found it difficult, like how to choose something [a SMART goal] that is specific enough and that I can potentially accomplish.” [C-NL2-INT]

The repetition of goal setting each week could be experienced as boring, as a coach from another Dutch club explained, suggesting that goal setting may be important in initiating but not maintaining changes:

“.. so at a certain moment, some of the men – not all of them—would go like ‘Yeah, I know by now!’ and they no longer felt like evaluating progress over and over again.” [C-NL4-INT]

Coaches clearly understood that their role was to facilitate change having created an enabling motivational environment and taught the flexible use of BCTs. This is illustrated by an extract from a coach in Norway, who said:

I like very much that they [participants] set their own goals and that we get to choose the tools we need ourselves. We try, we give them many options to take those tools that fit into their everyday life and that we do not say that so and so and so, and if you do not do this, you fail. That you, that we make them aware, and that making your own choices is done every day, that we take those choices unconsciously in a way. [C-NOR2-INT]

Consistent with our theory of change, analysis of observations of sessions and interviews with coaches confirmed that coaches used the manual as expected, creating an enabling environment for behaviour change by teaching BCTs.

Participants’ views and experiences of the EuroFIT program and materials (objective 12, Table 1; element of theory of change initiate and maintain change).

As we have seen, our theory of change placed explicit emphasis on learning to use a ‘toolbox’ of BCTs to promote an agency- and competency-based approach to initiating and maintaining changes in physical activity, sedentary and dietary behaviours. Specifically, the ‘toolbox’ focused on: goal setting, problem solving, action planning, self-monitoring of behaviour and outcomes, and social support. Data from focus groups showed that, in all four countries, men engaged with the toolbox of BCTs. For example:

I think the great thing about the program was that it wasn’t, you [didn’t have to] to make a massive amount of effort to make an improvement. It was small improvements, and you could measure them. And so, what I think was a great thing was that you learned about walking a little bit more, standing up a little bit more, just doing incremental things made you fitter. [P-UK1-PPFGD]

Responses to post-program questionnaires supported these findings, with participants reporting high levels of engagement with SitFIT (self-monitoring) devices, SMART goal setting, planning for making cumulative small changes to their everyday lives and seeking social support (see Fig. 3).

Fig. 3
figure 3

Self-reported use of BCTs at post-program

Objective measurements of physical activity indicated that after completing EuroFIT, on average, men were walking an additional 1208 steps/day (95% CI: 869 to 1546, p < 0·001) over and above the baseline average of 8,372 steps/day [8]. This finding is consistent with post-program focus group data, in which EuroFIT participants offered reoccurring narratives of being more active. For example, one said:

Now I developed an excel [file] to track my routines and progress regarding my almost daily walks and runs and my weight. I really like to fulfil it and think of ways to upgrade it… I put time, intensity [into it]… look (Participant shows interviewers some printed files)’ [P -POR2-PPFGD]

Self-monitoring was one of the main BCTs that men reported using. Men reported keeping the SitFIT device in their pockets and constantly checking their progress throughout the day or after certain activities (e.g., climbing the stairs). Across the four countries, participants commonly reported routinely using their SitFIT for monitoring their physical activity, as this interaction from a post program focus group in the UK demonstrates:

P2:I think the SitFIT is quite a big thing actually for me, you know? Err, I go out for a walk and [my wife] says have you got your SitFIT, have you got your SitFIT?

P6:Yeah, I get that.

P2:You have? Yeah, yeah, I’ve got it, I’ve got…I know I’ve got it.

P5:Or you’re gutted if you go out and you’ve forgotten it.

P3:You do, it’s the worst feeling.

P5:You can’t get those steps back.

P7:Worst feeling, yeah. [UK3-PPFGD].

As described, we developed the SitFIT (and some aspects of the MatchFIT app) to support self-monitoring. Whilst most felt positive about the SitFIT and in some cases found sharing their steps either through MatchFIT, Facebook or WhatsApp motivating, one man in the UK described how he felt that sharing his steps on MatchFIT might let the other men in his group down if he had not achieved what he had hoped (men in this group were taking a lot of steps each day):

I think the thing as well that I noticed was I’d look at it and if it’d have, like our average would be like eighteen thousand steps, I’d look at it and go, I’m only on sixteen thousand, if I put mine, it’ll bring everybody down […] I felt bad if I plugged it in and then…then the [MatchFIT average] figure was less after I plugged in. [P-UK3-PPFGD]

While men spoke positively about the SitFIT, they also described challenges using the device. These were practical (e.g., difficulty attaching device to clothing), technical (e.g., difficulty synchronising data) or mechanical (e.g., steps not registering correctly).

While self-monitoring appeared to be a useful BCT for increasing physical activity (steps), men reported that they found decreasing their sedentary time more difficult. Post-program focus group data program suggested that, while participants internalised the message to stand more, they found it harder to use self-monitoring and goal setting to change their sitting behaviour:

P5:I’ll look at it [upright time on SitFIT] and I’ll see what it is but I don’t kind of work towards it, do you know what I mean?

P2:No.

P4:It’s not…you can’t really quantify what you’re doing so…[UK3-PPFGD].

As part of the toolbox, EuroFIT aimed to encourage social support and relatedness through peer interaction. Participants responded well to encouragement to use social media for social support outside of EuroFIT sessions, using both WhatsApp and Facebook to support one another to be active, both during the program and up to 12 months afterwards (see Addditional File 1).

Another way that men were encouraged to engage with EuroFIT between sessions was through the MatchFIT app. As measured by server log data, the overall uptake (participants creating an account and using the app at least once) of MatchFIT across all countries was 63.5%. Uptake varied significantly across countries: in the UK it was 37.2%, in the Netherlands 65.2%, in Norway 78.7%, and in Portugal 82.8%. MatchFIT was introduced in week 4 of the program. About half of those who registered had stopped using the app by week 10, and, by week 12, only a third were still using it. Qualitative data from participants suggested that, while the idea of MatchFIT was appealing in all countries, particularly in the Netherlands, the practical challenges of connecting the SitFIT and uploading data limited wider engagement (see Additional File 1). Some participants also commented that playing against an algorithm, rather than other EuroFIT teams, was demotivating.

In relation to our theory of change, men’s experiences of the program, taken from post program questionnaires and focus groups, suggests that the program worked as intended for them in initiating changes to their lifestyles (particularly physical activity) and that this was consistent across countries. Self-monitoring through the SitFIT worked well, although this was less successful for sedentary behaviour than for walking and men found making changes to sedentary behaviour difficult. The motivation strategies were effective, self-referenced goal setting enabled small cumulative changes in physical activity, and relatedness through social support was important for embedding change and MatchFIT demonstrated potential to encourage interaction in between sessions but technical difficulties uploading data made its use frustrating.

Participants’ experiences of maintaining (or not) any lifestyle changes and what was helpful in maintaining change (objectives 13 and 14, Table 1; element of theory of change – maintaining change).

EuroFIT was designed to support men to make changes that they would be able to sustain beyond its 12-week delivery. As noted above, practising BCTs was helpful to participants in initiating and maintaining changes through the program, and men were encouraged to make small changes that could be accommodated within their daily routines. In the 12-month questionnaire, 71% of the intervention group said they became more active by making small changes to everyday life ‘often’ or ‘a great deal’. Focus group data from all countries confirmed this, with examples such as the following offered by participants:

I’ve got to enjoy it, my routine of walking around for the [news]paper in the morning and stuff like that, and I’ve kept it going and it’s just because it gave me the push that I needed, basically. [P-UK4-12MFGD]

The same pattern of convergence between qualitative and quantitative data was observed in relation to the routinisation of dietary changes, in all countries. Some described such routinisation in very direct terms e.g., “I don’t make an effort… this new way of behaving is like the normal me.” [P-POR3-12MFGD].

Our theory of change (Fig. 1) suggested that recognising the personal benefit of behaviour change would help men to maintain changes. Men in all countries reported feeling fitter and losing weight, and some had noticed energy improvements since participating in EuroFIT, often reflecting on how these changes had influenced their daily lives:

At my home I think at least that previously when I confidently sat in the favourite chair with the remote control, then I think it is much nicer to see myself confident where I am active and that you do something with yourself to be more present at home both energy-wise and with the kids and, yeah – day-to-day stuff, really [P-NOR1-12MFGD]

We have reported elsewhere that EuroFIT participants, on average, reduced their sedentary time post-program (i.e. at 12 week measures) by an estimated 14.4 min/day (95% CI: -25·1 to -3·8, p = 0·008), but that this reduction was not maintained at 12 months [8]. This finding from the RCT converged with men’s accounts in the 12-month focus groups, which described finding it difficult to integrate changes to sedentary behaviour into their daily lives. For example, one Portuguese participant said, “Although I do some PA, changing sedentary behaviour is hard… I cannot say honestly that I accomplished it.” [P-POR1-12MFGD].

As part of EuroFIT, participants were taught how to maintain new behaviours in the face of adversity, through activities which focussed on avoiding and overcoming setbacks. Participants from all four countries described how they implemented these aspects of EuroFIT, as this example from Portugal illustrates:

This weekend it was my son’s birthday, we had a big party and I had everything that I liked… Coca-Cola, beer, lots of food… I can’t even recall what exactly…Sunday I started the day by running 5 km – That’s the way to go” [P-POR3-12MFGD]

However, some participants expressed unhappiness about extent to which they had been able to keep changes going. For example, one man said:

“I feel guilty, I must be the worst participant ever. I think I lost about 12 pounds, but look at me now” [he had regained the weight] [P-NL1-12MFGD]

Such participants reported facing challenges relating to illness and injury, work patterns and culture, falling back into old habits, and life events such as divorce or bereavement. Poorer winter weather was also discussed as a de-motivating factor to continue exercise in all countries.

The theory of change also suggested that the program would nurture social support beyond the 12 weekly sessions. This was reported as happening in some clubs in Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK where groups were set up via WhatsApp or Facebook to continue to walk or play walking or five-a side football. Where this happened, it was seen as motivational was seen as important program, as in this example in the UK:

P3:I mean the whole thing when we did the EuroFIT, [..] Our group was brilliant, wasn’t it? how we got on well. And it kind of continued. It’s as though you handpicked them, you know what I mean? The group.

P2:I could say a few things, yes. Since we’ve stopped, actually, the program, I was playing regularly walking football. I really enjoyed that. There is such a nice group of people, I would like to call them friends, and we really were so, you know, we were getting together, playing football together, and as [name] said just recently, which was really important for me, was we were not as competitive as the others could be, so that was pure joy to play and really get physically active, and I can tell you we were really sweating a lot, you know? [UK4-12MFGD].

In Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK men who continued to do physical activity together as a group described a real strong sense of camaraderie and motivation. Men in Norway, where distances were further, did not meet up and that many of them now were walking alone (because of geographical distance and no organised sessions) and this made it hard to maintain their activity levels. They missed the group, the people and the weekly sessions they had together, and said that these things would have made it easier to maintain the activity long term. As one said ‘The mile is long if you are by yourself’ [P-NOR3-12MFGD].

In summary, men’s experience of the program suggests it largely worked as described by the theory of change, at least for those who maintained change – in that they recognised the personal benefits brought by relatively small, but cumulative, routinised, lifestyle changes, although not everyone had been able to keep those up. There was also evidence that men had learnt to avoid setbacks and plan for difficult encounters, although again not all participants were able to do this because of illness or other life events. Groups formed to continue exercise after the program were highly valued where they happened and were seen as motivational but, in their absence, as in Norway, it was harder to motivate ongoing physical activity.