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The purpose of this retrospective evaluation was to examine the characteristics of men and women who embarked upon a 10-week general practitioner (GP) referral exercise prescription programme and to compare those who completed a 10-week programme of exercise (Finishers) with those who failed to complete (Non-finishers).Forty-two Finishers (16 males and 26 females) and 35 Non-finishers (12 males and 23 females) were followed up with a semistructured telephone interview. Clinical data were also collected from the patients' GPs' case notes and the data were analysed using both quantitative and qualitative methods.Baseline results using one way ANOVA showed no statistical difference between the groups for age (P > 0.3), BMI (P > 0.9), Systolic BP (P > 0.9), Diastolic BP (P > 0.9), total cholesterol (P > 0.1), number of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors (P > 0.4), number of subjects with CHD family history (P > 0.7) or for number of smokers (P > 0.9). However, generally the females were younger than the males (males 57.9 ± 12.1 years, females 50.7 ± 13.3 years). Analysis of the available data from the case notes showed that (CHD)/coronary vascular disease (CVD) risk factors were not generally taken into account by the primary health care team to make appropriate referrals. Finishers attended the gym significantly (P < 0.0001) more times per week than the Non-finishers (F 2.5 ± 0.9, NF 1.7 ± 0.6 sessions/week). Results from the semistructured interviews revealed that Finishers were less reliant on social support and more likely to report tangible health benefits whereas Non-finishers relied on support of others when attending the gym.Results from this evaluation suggest, that the methodology used was to crude to accurately measure the complex characteristics which determine the differences between Finishers and Non-finishers.