Physical activity and fitness are generally recognized as contributing to enhanced physical and mental health as well as prevention of a number of diseases and other problems later in life (Blair et al., 1989; Haskell, Montoye, & Orenstein, 1985; Powell & Blair, 1994; Stephens, 1988; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Furthermore, concern about greater numbers of overweight and obese children, and the question of whether this pattern will continue into later adolescence, also suggest the benefits of physical activity among children and youth (Dishman, Sallis, & Orenstein, 1985; Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). The normal pattern during adolescence, based largely on cross-sectional studies in North America and other settings, indicates a decrease in activity with increasing age (or grade), compounded by consistently lower levels of activity among females compared to males (Allison & Adlaf, 1997; Tappe, Duda, & Ehrnwald, 1989; Trost et al., 2002). Because of the health and other benefits of physical activity, these lower levels of physical activity among older adolescents are of concern.
One explanation for the decreasing levels of physical activity during the mid-teenage years is the number of barriers that make it difficult to participate. Barriers refer to the obstacles individuals face in undertaking, maintaining, or increasing physical activity. Much of the existing empirical work examining barriers and other factors influencing activity consists of quantitative studies and reviews of the correlates and predictors of physical activity, exercise, and sport (Allison, Dwyer, & Makin, 1999; Frankish, Milligan, & Reid, 1998; Higgins, Gaul, Gibbons, & Van Gyn, 2003; Robbins, Pender, & Kazanis, 2003; Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000; Saxena, Borzekowski, & Rickert, 2002; Sherwood & Jeffrey, 2000; Tappe, Duda, & Ehrnwald, 1989; Tergerson & King, 2002). These factors have been categorized and analyzed as individual and environmental characteristics (Sherwood & Jeffery, 2000) or internal and external barriers (Allison, Dwyer, & Makin, 1999).
Sallis and colleagues (2000) have developed five categories of these factors: demographic and biological; psychological, cognitive, and emotional; behavioral attributes and skills; social and cultural; and physical environment. While not all of these factors were considered to be barriers to physical activity, many can be conceptualized as such. For example, age represents more than just time; it signifies stages in the life course. Age can be considered to represent a whole series of (often unmeasured) events which serve as barriers to physical activity: increasing interest in interpersonal relationships and dating, getting a driver's license, worrying about what to do following high school graduation, and (in some cases) spending more time on academic subjects in order to improve the chances of entering college or university. Thus, it is not simply age, but the meaning of age, which may represent barriers to physical activity among adolescents. To extend this argument, it is likely that the meaning of such factors as gender, ethnicity, and race are important when considering barriers to physical activity rather than simply their correlational or predictive relationship to particular outcomes.
Since females are consistently reported to be less involved in physical activity, exercise, and sport than are males, there is justifiably more attention in the literature devoted to this group. Nevertheless, male physical activity participation also decreases with increasing age during adolescence, and the barriers and other factors related to physical activity are likely to be somewhat different for males and females (Allison, Dwyer, & Makin, 1999; Tappe, Duda, & Ehrnwald, 1989; Tergerson & King, 2002). Therefore, it is important to examine the perceptions and experiences of adolescent boys in relation to physical activity, in particular those which make participation difficult. …