Background: Evidence-based guidelines published by health authorities for the promotion of health-enhancing physical activity (PA), continue to be implemented unsuccessfully and demonstrate a gap between evidence and policies. This review synthesizes evidence on factors influencing delivery, adoption and implementation of PA promotion guidelines within different policy sectors (e.g., health, transport, urban planning, sport, education). Methods: Published literature was initially searched using PubMed, EBSCO, Google Scholar and continued through an iterative snowball technique. The literature review spanned the period 2002–2017. The realist synthesis approach was adopted to review the content of 39 included studies. An initial programme theory with a four-step chain from evidence emersion to implementation of guidelines was tested. Results: The synthesis furthers our understanding of the link between PA guidelines delivery and the actions of professionals responsible for implementation within health services, school departments and municipalities. The main mechanisms identified for guidance implementation were scientific legitimation, enforcement, feasibility, familiarity with concepts and PA habits. Threats emerged to the successful implementation of PA guidelines at national/local jurisdictional levels. Conclusions: The way PA guidelines are developed may influence their adoption by policy-makers and professionals. Useful lessons emerged that may inform synergies between policymaking and professional practices, promoting win-win multisectoral strategies.
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