Vol.3, No.8, 491-499 (2013) Open Journal of Preventiv e Me dic ine
Perceived barriers to leisure time physical activity:
What Brazilians have to say?*
Emerson Sebastião1#, Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko1, Andiara Schwingel1, Lilian T. B. Gobbi2,
Camila B. Papini2, Priscila M. Nakamura2, Américo V. Netto2, Eduardo Kokubun2,
Sebastião Gobbi2
1Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA;
#Corresponding Author: esebast2@illinois.edu
2Department of Physical Education, Universidade Estadual Paulista-UNESP, Rio Claro, Brazil
Received 2 June 2013; revised 1 August 2013; accepted 22 October 2013
Copyright © 2013 Emerson Sebastião et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Li-
cense, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Background: Physical inactivity is a major pub-
lic health concern worldwide. Leisure time is an
important domain of physical activity that draws
the attention of researchers due to its voluntary
characteristic. Understanding the barriers that
prevent individuals being engaged in leisure
time physical activity should be an ongoing
concern that has the potential to lead to better
strategie s and interv en tions to prom ot e phy s ical
activity in the populations. Objectives: This stu-
dy explored perceived barriers to leisure time
physical activity (LTPA) in Brazilian adults living
in a midsize city. Methods: A total of 1213 adults
were evaluated on barriers to LTPA. LTPA was
assessed using the section four of the Interna-
tional Physical Activity Questionnaire. Barriers
were assessed using a list of 22 factors that pre-
vent individuals being engaged in LTPA. Results:
Women, insufficiently active men and women,
and low incoming individuals reported a higher
number of barriers in average compared to their
counterparts. Lack of time and feeling too lazy
presented the strongest association with being
inactive during leisure time. Conclusions: Un-
derstanding factors related to physical inactivity
can help authorities in creating strategies, and
developing effective health promotion programs.
Keywords: Barriers; Physical Activity; Leisure
Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for morbidity
and mortality [1]. Beyond its negative effects on health
and quality of life, physical inactivity also contributes to
increased health care costs [2,3]. Despite the clear bene-
fits of physical activity for health outcomes [4,5] and the
public health efforts to promote physical activity among
the populations, studies have shown that physical inac-
tivity rates remain high worldwide, especially in Latin
America [6,7]. For instance, studies conducted in differ-
ent regions of Brazil observed that 40% to 65% of the
adults did not meet the recommended guidelines of 150
minutes/week of moderate physical activity [8,9]. In ad-
dition, results from a national surveillance conducted in
all Brazilian capitals observed that the rates for inactivity
during leisure time are even higher [10].
The non-engagement in regular physical activity has
been associated with perceptions of barriers [11-13]. For
instance, Reichert and colleagues observed that 85% of
the adults assessed in their study reported at least one
barrier to engaging in leisure time physical activity.
Moreover, several barriers were positively associated
with physical inactivity during leisure time [11]. Studies
conducted to investigate perceived barriers for physical
activity have verified that both personal (e.g. lack of mo-
tivation) and environmental barriers (e.g. safety envi-
ronment) are frequently reported among population [14-
18] and have a negative effect on physical activity par-
ticipation [19].
Leisure time is one of the four domains related to
physical activity that represents a meaningful portion of
the total amount of physical activity, especially regarding
adults. Furthermore, studies employing self-reported
physical activity measures have focused on understand-
ing patterns and determinants of physical activity during
leisure time and transportation due to problems in accu-
rate acquiring physical activity information at work and
in household-related tasks [20,21].
*Funding: This study was funded by Fundaçao de Amparo a Pesquisa do
ado de Sao Paulo, Brazil
rocess number: 2007/02229-4 FAPESP
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
E. Sebastião et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 3 (2013) 491-499
Despite the emphasis of studies on barriers related to
physical activity, few have addressed this issue in repre-
sentative samples in Latin America, especially in Brazil.
It is known that physical activity may be influenced by
several factors, among which personal, social and envi-
ronmental factors play an important role in determining
health attitudes, especially regarding to leisure time
physical activity [22]. Therefore, additional studies are
needed to identify barriers to leisure time physical activ-
ity among Brazilians if we are to be able to develop ef-
fective strategies for physical activity promotion, and to
assist in the development of public health policies that
promote active living. In addition, a better understanding
of the factors that prevent people from engaging in lei-
sure time physical activity may help health professionals
and practitioners to work with sedentary individuals to
overcome such barriers and achieve health benefits
through physical activity. This is especially important in
Latin America countries, including Brazil, which appears
to have a higher prevalence of physical inactivity com-
pared to developed nations and where obesity rates raise
concern [6,23,24]. A developing country with a growing
economy like Brazil may have different factors which
prevent individuals from engaging in leisure time physi-
cal activity. This might be because of the large geo-
graphic territory, diverse regions with markedly different
cultural and climate characteristics, each of which could
influence individuals’ perceptions of barriers.
Therefore, the present study explored perceived barri-
ers to leisure time physical activity in Brazilian adults
living in a midsize Brazilian city. For a better under-
standing, this study operationalized leisure time physical
activity as being activities that are not work-oriented or
that do not involve life maintenance tasks such as house-
hold chores. Thereby, leisure time is here understood as
the time free of social obligations.
A cross-sectional, population-based study was con-
ducted in Rio Claro, Sao Paulo, Brazil, a midsize city
(190,000 inhabitants—density of 124.36/km2) located in
southeastern Brazil to assess barriers to leisure time
physical activity in a sample of adults over the age 20
years. The UNESP—Sao Paulo State University Ethical
Committee approved the research protocol, and informed
consent was obtained from each subject before data col-
2.1. The Study Site
Rio Claro has a territorial area of nearly 490 km2 with
an elevation of 613 m. The city is located in the Mideast
of Sao Paulo State approximately 190 km from the capi-
tal Sao Paulo. The population is predominantly White
(75%) and Roman Catholic (nearly 59%). The economic,
historic and cultural development of the city has been
influenced by the high concentration of Italian immi-
grants who came to the region about one hundred years
ago. Rio Claro weather can be considered tropical with
two well defined seasons: 1) tropical dry and; 2) humid.
The mean annual temperature ranges from 18.1 to 20.9
degree Celsius with few periods of rain. It is different
from the subtropical weather found in the capital Sao
Paulo, the subtropical humid conditions observed in the
South of the country, and equatorial/tropical humid fea-
tures of the North (www.ibge.gov).
2.2. Sample
A stratified random sampling procedure was used to
select a representative sample of adults living in Rio
Claro. From the total number of census tracts (n = 200),
100 were randomly selected for inclusion in the study
and eight households within each tract were randomly
chosen for interview. This yielded a total of 800 house-
holds selected for interview. All residents in each house-
hold over 20 years of age who were able to walk inde-
pendently were eligible for inclusion in the study. This
procedure yielded a sample of 1572 individuals assessed.
As the present study is part of a large survey with differ-
ent purposes, the present analyzed only adults (20 to 59
years old). Therefore, the final sample was composed by
1213 individuals.
2.3. Measures
Barriers to leisure time physical activity were assessed
using the Questionnaire of Barriers to Physical Activity
Practice (QBPAP). The original version of the present
instrument was developed by Hirayama in 2006 and used
a likert scale to attend the purposes of his thesis [25]. In
order to be employed and to attend the purpose of the
present study, the QBPAP was modified to a list of 22
dichotomous (yes/no) factors and previous tested in a
pilot study. Details of the questionnaire as well as a pub-
lication using the referred instrument can be found else-
where [26].
Leisure time physical activity was assessed using the
section four of the Portuguese long version of the Inter-
national Physical Activity Questionnaire. The validation
and reliability of the IPAQ are described elsewhere [27],
including the validation for Brazilian population [28].
For the purpose of this study, insufficient physical activ-
ity was defined as situations in which the participant did
not reach the recommended amount of 150 minutes per
week [29]. Therefore, Individuals who reported less than
150 minutes of combined moderate and vigorous physi-
cal activity were considered to be insufficient active
during leisure time. Similarly, individuals reporting at
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
E. Sebastião et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 3 (2013) 491-499 493
least 150 minutes of combined moderate and vigorous
physical activity were considered to be sufficiently active
to achieve health benefits. The IPAQ defines moderate
activities as those that produce a moderate increase in
respiration rate, heart rate, and sweating and last for at
least 10 minutes. Vigorous activities are defined as those
producing more substantial increases in the same vari-
In addition, the following demographic variables were
collected, gender, age, education, and Socio Economic
Status (SES). SES was defined according to the proce-
dure of the Brazilian Economic Criteria Classification
(www.abep.org), proposal by Brazilian Association of
Research Companies and we grouped participants into
three SES groups (High; Medium; and Low income
2.4. Data Collection
Questionnaires were both administered face-to-face by
trained interviewers. The interviewers received 40 hours
of training for administering and coding the question-
naires and were not aware of the objectives of the study.
Moreover, the interviewers were oriented on the inter-
pretation of terms such as moderate and vigorous physi-
cal activity and some commons examples of activities. In
each of the selected households interviewers performed
the assessments for all eligible participants, following
inclusion criteria previous described. If participants were
not at home in the first time visit, two more visits in dif-
ferent times were scheduled with at least one being dur-
ing the weekend. In the case of two or more eligible par-
ticipants were at home, the interviewers were instructed
to perform each evaluation separately to avoid response
Fieldwork supervisors were responsible to ensure
quality of the data. The interviewer’s questionnaires were
checked in a period not exceeding one week following
the initial interview (30% checked by telephone and 10%
with the supervisor returning to the participant’s house).
This process identified inconsistencies in about three
percent of interviews, which were repeated.
2.5. Statistical Analysis
The data were analyzed with standard statistical pro-
cedures using SPSS 13.0. Descriptive statistics included
mean, standard deviation and percentage. Differences
between groups were calculated using U Mann Whitney
and Kruskall Wallis tests, adopting p < 0.05. Logistic
regression was used to verify associated barriers to
physical inactivity using 95% of confidence interval.
The final sample consisted of 1213 individuals. De-
tails of the sample characteristics, separated by gender
are presented in Table 1. According to the physical ac-
tivity criteria adopted, within 1213 individual assessed
910 (approximately 75%) were classified as insuffi-
ciently active (<150 min/week) during leisure time, be-
ing the prevalence greater in women (76.9%) than men
Barriers to Leisure Time Physical Activity
Nearly 97% of the participants reported at least one
barrier (mean 5.72 barriers) to engage in leisure time
physical activity. Statistical differences regarding the
mean number of reported barriers were examined in dif-
ferent subsets. Women in general, men and women clas-
sified as insufficient active and low-income men and
women reported higher number of barriers in average
compared to their counterparts. No differences regarding
mean number of reported barriers were found between
age groups. Figure 1 displays in detail this information.
The main barriers reported were: need to rest, too lazy,
enough active, lack of company, lack of money, lack of
near places, and lack of time with rates over 40%. Re-
garding sex, the barriers need to rest and too lazy was
reported by over 50% of men and nearly 45% of women.
Analyzed by age groups, the youngest group (20 - 39
years old) presented higher rates for the same barriers
compared to the oldest age group (40 - 59 years old).
Lack of time and lack of a nearby place to be active were
among barriers identified by the low SES group, with
rates of nearly 55%. All reported barriers are displayed
separately for sex (Figure 2), age group (Figure 3), and
SES (Figure 4).
The association between leisure time physical activity
and barriers was examined. Five barriers were found to
be positively associated with physical inactivity during
leisure time. After adjustments, the barrier “lack of time”
presented the highest odds ratio (nearly 4 times) for lei-
Table 1. Demographic data.
Men (n = 523) Women (n = 690)
Age, years, mean (SD) 38.4 (12) 39 (11)
SES, n (%)*
High 196 (37.4) 230 (33.4)
Medium 251 (47.9) 327 (47.4)
Low 77 (14.7) 133 (19.2)
Schooling, n (%)*
11 yrs 269 (51.4) 270 (39.2)
8 - 11 yrs 91 (17.2) 136 (19.6)
<8 yrs 164 (31.4) 284 (41.2)
*% within sex.
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E. Sebastião et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 3 (2013) 491-499
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
Figure 1. Mean number of reported barriers by sex (a), age group (b), physical activity level (c), and so-
cioeconomic status (d). *Statistically significant (p < 0.05).
According to the criteria adopted in the present study,
nearly 75% of the participants were considered insuffi-
cient active during leisure time. These findings are con-
sistent with previous studies which have assessed lei-
sure time physical inactivity not only in other Brazilian
regions, but in other countries of Latin America and Asia
[10,32]; however different rates have been observed in
the United States and some European Countries [33,34].
Taken together these findings support the notion that
physical inactivity remains a public health concern not
only in Brazil but also in other Latin America countries.
Although only leisure time physical activity was as-
sessed in the present study, it is known that such domain
significantly contributes to the total amount of physical
activity, especially considering the age examined in the
present study. Considering the negative effects of physi-
cal inactivity (for example: increased risk to develop
chronic diseases and the associated health care costs), the
findings observed in the present study should be a con-
cern to authorities, professionals involved in health pro-
motion, and policy makers. For instance, national data
demonstrate that the capital Sao Paulo (where Rio Claro
is located) is among the top four states regarding levels
of overweight (48%). Nevertheless the overweight rates
observed in Sao Paulo are lower compared to some other
Brazilian regions, such as, the North and South with rates
over 50%. In addition, obesity rates are a concern
throughout the country [10]. The cost to authorities for
the treatment of problems directly related to physical
inactivity is high and studies have shown that a small
increase in physical activity at the population level can
Figure 2. Prevalence of leisure time physical activity barriers
separated by sex.
sure time physical inactivity compared to other barriers.
Table 2 presents the results of the regression analyses in
The present study aimed to explore perceived barriers
to leisure time physical activity in adults living in a mid-
size Brazilian city. Additionally, it sought to provide in-
sight regarding physical activity barriers in a developing
country experiencing a rapid economic transition.
E. Sebastião et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 3 (2013) 491-499 495
Figure 3. Prevalence of leisure time physical activity barriers separated by age
Figure 4. Prevalence of leisure time physical activity barriers separated by so-
cioeconomic groups.
Table 2. Multiple logistic regression models for barriers to physical activity and leisure time physical inactivity.
Barriers Crude Analysis OR (CI—95%) Adjusted Analysis*† OR (CI—95%) p
Lack of time 4.32 (2.821 - 6.635) 3.86 (2.357 - 6.320) 0.001
Too lazy 3.36 (2.342 - 4.846) 2.55 (1.641 - 3.976) 0.001
Need to rest 2.80 (1.892 - 4.148) 1.98 (1.242 - 3.158) 0.004
Lack of energy 3.86 (2.306 - 6.459) 2.14 (1.148 - 4.012) 0.02
Dislike exercising 3.90 (2.031 - 7.488) 2.84 (1.340 - 6.032) 0.03
*Adjusted analysis by sex, age, schooling, socio economic status and all other barriers which presented significant level of <0.2; Hosmer-Lemeshow test for
residual analysis (0.69).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
E. Sebastião et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 3 (2013) 491-499
be successful in reducing such costs [2,3,35]. Thereby,
strategies to promote physical activity, like community-
based interventions, and community-wide polices and
planning appear to be the best alternative so far to in-
crease physical activity level of the population [36,37].
Regarding barriers, the large number of barriers re-
ported by the participants in this study is consistent with
the high rates of physical inactivity observed in this
sample. The present study observed that 97% of the par-
ticipants reported at least one barrier to physical activity
during leisure time, and the mean average number of
reported barriers was 5.72. Similar rates in the average
number of barriers have also been observed elsewhere
[11]. It is noteworthy that studies involving barriers to
physical activity are extremely difficult to compare be-
cause relatively few standardized instruments exist for
the evaluation of physical activity barriers. To our
knowledge, to date, no valid instrument that combines
personal and environmental barriers has been developed.
In the present study, we found that women, insufficient
active men and women, and low-income men and
women reported more barriers. These findings are in
parallel with the high physical inactivity levels observed
in these groups. These findings suggest that community-
based interventions and public health strategies should
concentrate efforts on these subgroups in order to reach
and help them overcoming such barriers and increase
their physical activity level. The most frequently reported
barriers were: lack of time, enough active, lack of com-
pany, lack of money, lack of near place for practice, need
to rest, and too lazy (40%). However, only the barriers
lack of time, too lazy, lack of energy, need to rest, and
disliking exercise were positive associated with leisure
time physical inactivity. These findings are similar of
those published elsewhere [11,38,39]. Despite the asso-
ciation and high prevalence found in these barriers, stud-
ies have suggested that barriers such as lack of energy,
lack of company, and lack of time suggest a lack of mo-
tivation for physical activity; and motivation factors have
been shown to be associated with physical activity levels
[13,40,41]. According to Cerin and colleagues motiva-
tion can be related to not only the “pure” motivation (a
person that has or has not the enjoyment of physical ac-
tivity), but also to environmental, social and health-re-
lated factors that could be related to motivation as a bar-
rier [39]. In this sense, social support may pose as a posi-
tive factor for affect motivation to physical activity/ex-
Additionally, non-participation in physical activity
during leisure time has been independently associated
with lack of time, which is one of the most frequent bar-
riers reported in the adult population in general [11,12,42,
43]. Lack of time was positively associated with physical
inactivity in the present study. Bowles and colleagues,
found a strong link between lack of time as a barrier and
lack of self-motivation for physical activity [39]. Ac-
cording to Reichert and colleagues most part of the adult
population in Brazil have free time only at night and they
may not consider the night a good time for physical ac-
tivity due to safety concerns [11]. Regarding safety, the
present study found that lack of safety was reported by
nearly 20% of men and approximately 30% of women.
Although it was not associated with leisure-time physical
activity in the present study, such association has been
observed by Bennett and colleagues and therefore, worth
of attention [44]. These authors concluded that residing
in a neighborhood that is perceived to be unsafe at night
is a barrier to regular physical activity. Additionally,
feeling unsafe may also diminish confidence in the abil-
ity to be more physically active. Taken together, these
findings leave room for public health strategies and
health professionals regarding physical activity and pub-
lic safety. Physical activity promotion should focus in all
possible types/domains of physical activity. As Brazilians
appear to have difficult to find time to be physically ac-
tive during leisure time, they should be encouraged to
explore other types of physical activity, for example
commuting from home to work. Additionally, as they
might not feel safe exercising during the night, measures
regarding enhance the lighting of possible places for
physical activity, such as parks, and increase policing
near this places, should be taken and might be an impor-
tant step to promote and increase not only leisure time
physical activity in general of the Brazilian adult popu-
Lack of money was among the most frequently re-
ported barriers to leisure time physical activity, espe-
cially among the low SES population. Our data suggest
that participants in our study do not appear to recognize
that some forms of physical activity (e.g. walking) require
little financial expenditures and can still bring substantial
health benefits [45,46]. A study conducted in Brazil sug-
gests that many of the Brazilian population associate the
health benefits of physical activity primarily with par-
ticipating in organized sports and/or attending fitness
centers [11]. The relative lack of public fitness centers
and sports facilities may lead to the perception that there
are no nearby places to be physically active reported in
our study (prevalence 40%). Such a barrier has been
shown to be associated with physical inactivity in a dif-
ferent study [47]. Individuals in our study may not feel
safety walking in their neighborhood thus it is important
to increase our understanding of the possible effects of
the environment on physical activity levels and to ex-
plore the degree to which the built environment can be
changed to facilitate physical activity [35].
The present study sought to address the main per-
ceived barriers to engage in leisure time physical activity
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
E. Sebastião et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 3 (2013) 491-499 497
in adults living in a midsize Brazilian city. Our findings
suggest that multilevel interventions are needed to help
to overcome perceived barriers to leisure time physical
activity in the adult Brazilian population. It is noteworthy
that some of the barriers reported by the participants may
not be modifiable, however the availability of social
support and access to safe locations for example, may be.
It is important to note that the present study has some
strengths and limitations. The methodology employed to
select the sample, collect data, and the valid instruments
employed are the strengths of this study. Important find-
ings were observed which are of interest to the field of
public health and physical activity promotion. Although
important, our findings should be interpreted with cau-
tion due to the following limitations. We use a subsection
(leisure time) of the IPAQ questionnaire. Albeit widely
used, studies have reported that IPAQ questionnaire has
problems to accurately estimate physical activity level
[20,21]. Additionally, we use the DHHS criteria (150
minutes/week) to classify the participants either as insuf-
ficient active or active [29]. The DHHS criteria is related
to the four physical activity domains, therefore, indi-
viduals who do not meet the 150 minutes threshold in the
present study (presenting less than 150 minutes/week of
physical activity in leisure time), may have been catego-
rized as active if other domains (transportation, work,
and household-related physical activity) were considered.
Second, as the participants were specifically instructed to
report only the barriers related to leisure time physical
activity, we do not know if these barriers would be re-
ported for other types of physical activity, for example,
transportation. It is important because in a public health
perspective physical activity is related to all four do-
mains and not only leisure time. Moreover, the present
study used a 22-item list factors instrument to assess bar-
riers. Although it was a large instrument compared to
other studies, the QBPAP does not provide any open
ended questions. It means that it is possible that the par-
ticipants could have additional barriers than the ones
listed in the referred questionnaire.
Additional studies aimed at exploring possible factors
(barriers) that prevent or make it difficult to individuals
from engaging in regular physical activity are needed.
The findings of the present study demonstrate that physi-
cal inactivity during leisure time is prevalent in Brazilian
adults and a multilevel intervention to increase activity is
needed. Physical activity is a complex and dynamic pro-
cess. Developing strategies to increase physical activity
poses a challenge for individuals, health professionals,
public policy makers, and authorities. Understanding the
determinants of physical inactivity can help authorities to
create strategies, develop health promotion programs, ef-
fective community-based interventions, as well as public
policies that have the potential of making the difference.
The authors thank the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal
de Nível Superior—CAPES; Fundação Municipal da Saúde de Rio
Claro, Brazil and the Conselho Regional de Educação Física do Estado
de Sao Paulo, Brazil (CREF04/SP).
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