Fit for LIFE: the development and optimization of an intervention delivered through prison gymnasia to support incarcerated men in making positive lifestyle changes



MacLean A, Maycock M, Hunt K & Gray CM (2022) Fit for LIFE: the development and optimization of an intervention delivered through prison gymnasia to support incarcerated men in making positive lifestyle changes. BMC Public Health, 22 (1), Art. No.: 783.

Background Despite prison settings presenting opportunities for healthy eating and regular exercise, many incarcerated men supplement prison food with unhealthy snacks and drinks, and are less likely to achieve recommended physical activity guidelines than non-incarcerated men. This paper describes the co-development with prison staff of a healthy lifestyle intervention for delivery to incarcerated men, and feasibility testing of its delivery through prison physical education departments. Methods The starting point for intervention development was Football Fans in Training (FFIT), an evidence-based intervention successful in engaging men and supporting them to lose weight, make positive lifestyle changes and maintain these long term. We iteratively tested and adapted FFIT for delivery in prison gym facilities through a four Phase pilot and optimisation study. Methods used to evaluate each phase included: observations of session deliveries; semi-structured interviews with participants; and a focus group/semi-structured interviews with prison Physical Education Instructors (PEIs) who delivered the programme. Data were analysed thematically using the Framework approach. Findings from each phase informed development of the optimised programme. Results We iteratively co-developed a healthy lifestyle intervention (known as Fit for LIFE) tailored to the needs of incarcerated men and prison operational constraints. Fit for LIFE comprises elements specifically designed to address common barriers to a healthy lifestyle within prison, including: discussion of healthiest available food choices; trying out different physical activity options in the prison gym; and strategies (such as in-cell workouts) for dealing with prolonged time in cells at evenings/weekends. Weight loss was not always the most valued outcome. Instead, participants cited a wide range of behavioural, physical and mental health improvements as important to them, and were more motivated if they could focus on identifying and achieving personally relevant objectives. Conclusions Fit for LIFE is a 10-week, group-based healthy lifestyle programme tailored for delivery to incarcerated men in prison gymnasia. Weekly 90-min sessions include informative and interactive ‘classroom’ activities followed by a practical physical activity training session, often with group activities. Fit for LIFE aims to help incarcerated men to: increase physical activity; reduce sedentary time; eat more healthily; and start and maintain using prison gym facilities with confidence.

Prisoner health; Health behaviour change; Prison, diet; Healthy eating; Physical activity; Weight; Sedentary behaviour; Wellbeing

BMC Public Health: Volume 22, Issue 1

FundersChief Scientist Office and Medical Research Council
Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online18/04/2022
Date accepted by journal11/03/2022

People (2)


Professor Kate Hunt

Professor Kate Hunt

Professor, Institute for Social Marketing

Dr Alice MacLean

Dr Alice MacLean

Research Fellow, Institute for Social Marketing