An exploration of physical activity amongst students in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia

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Introduction: A lack of physical activity (PA) is associated with many consequences that adversely affect health. Why people do not exercise in their daily lives has become an important question for public health. Therefore, identifying barriers to PA has become one means to determine why people limit their PA. This study identifies significant perceived barriers to performing PA and the differences between genders. Methods: A quantitative cross-sectional descriptive study utilising a web-based questionnaire (CDC) Barriers to Being Active on Qualtrics. 258 student participants from a university in Al Ahsa were recruited using a purposive, non-probability sampling method. The data were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. Results: A moderate level of PA was prevalent among the participants and the prevalence of physical inactivity was found to be 26.7%. Females were more physically inactive (27.7%) compared to males (24.3%). The three most commonly reported barriers to PA were a lack of willpower, lack of energy (especially among females) and a lack of resources (especially among males). There were no significant differences found for five barriers to PA in terms of gender, marital status, age group, or educational level. Significant differences, however, existed in perceived barriers between the sexes in terms of a lack of social support related to cultural norms and across inactivity levels. Implications for public health and health promotion: This study identified a number of obstacles to PA that are associated with many personal, social and environmental factors. These findings will help to understand and overcome the barriers, thereby benefiting health professionals and researchers. This can also help to develop an appropriate programme to confront perceived barriers, particularly in Al Ahsa. Also, it is important to tailor intervention strategies to university students in Al Ahsa to promote PA, minimise barriers and instil the habit of regular PA. Therefore, public health and health promotion programmes should shape policy and intervention with consideration of Saudi culture, society and geography as a solution to the lack of PA among Saudis as a whole.