BACKGROUND: At the population level, the prevalence of physical activity has declined considerably in many developed countries in recent decades. There is some evidence that areas exhibiting the lowest activity levels are those which have undergone a particularly strong transition away from employment in physically demanding occupations. We propose that processes of deindustrialisation may be causally linked to unexplained geographical disparities in levels of physical activity. Whilst the socio-cultural correlates of physical activity have been well studied, and prior conceptual frameworks have been developed to explain more general patterns of activity, none have explicitly attempted to identify the components of industrial change that may impact physical activity. METHODS: In this work we review the current literature on socio-cultural correlates of health behaviours before using a case study centred on the United Kingdom to present a novel framework that links industrial change to declining levels of physical activity. RESULTS: We developed a comprehensive model linking socio-cultural correlates of physical activity to processes associated with industrial restructuring and discuss implication for policy and practice. CONCLUSIONS: A better understanding of socio-cultural processes may help to ameliorate adverse health consequences of employment decline in communities that have experienced substantial losses of manual employment.