This study determined the barriers to physical activity perceived by Malaysian men and the relationship between these barriers with sociodemographic backgrounds, BMI, waist circumference, and physical activity status. The findings of this study are in agreement with other studies that have evaluated physical activity barriers in Japan, the United States and Brazil [9–11]. However, this study provided insight into the effects of various personal, social and physical environment factors on perceived physical activity barriers among men, which in turn influenced the physical activity level. Marriage status, educational level, household income, BMI, and physical activity status were proven to be associated with perceived barriers.
Higher BMI and being single were associated with having more personal perceived barriers. Previous research has shown that being overweight may be a significant barrier to physical activity , which may be related to the misperception that these men are incapable of engaging in a healthy lifestyle because they are overweight or obese  Perception of being overweight has been suggested as a cognitive barrier to physical activity . Furthermore, individuals with high BMI have reported fear of injuries and having an injury or disease as barriers to physical activity . Lack of confidence and motivation among overweight men may also prevent them from being physically active.
Marriage status has been associated with physical activity. King et al.  found that the transition from being single to married gave a positive effect to physical activity compared to individuals who stayed single. The present of the other half might influences and motivates the individual to engage in physical activity. Furthermore, motivation factor was proved to have relationship with physical activity level . Interventions and health-promotion programmes using a cognitive approach seem most suitable for overcoming these barriers. For example, strategies to increase confidence and motivation may help individuals to increase physical activity participation and improve weight management.
Social support from family and friends is important to encourage participation in physical activity. Several studies have reported the lack of support from family members, no friends to do physical activities together and no role model as guidance as social barriers among adults [9, 30, 31] which are similar with this study. Participation in physical activity with other people can help in developing positive social norm for physical activity in the individual’s social network . Observing the physical activity behaviour of others can also help individuals learn about physical activity, in addition to receiving the positive feedback about the benefits of physical activity .
Monthly household income was found to be associated with having more physical environment barriers. Furthermore, lack of money to buy sports equipments and to go to sports facilities was also one of the most frequent reported barriers, as noted in the previous study in Brazil . This might be due to a perception that the health benefits of physical activity can only be attained by going to a gym or playing certain sports, which may be expensive. The cheapest and effective way to be more physically active is by walking and it can be the alternative for people who have financial problems. However, most neighbourhoods in Malaysia do not have accessible recreation facilities, such as walking and cycling paths, to encourage physical activity in the community . Physical environment can influence physical activity behaviour by either promoting or discouraging physical activity through factors such as access to safe recreation, accessibility of recreation facilities and transit option . Therefore, policy-level interventions and development regulations, such as provisions for parks and cycling paths, would help to overcome this problem. Furthermore, health-promoting programmes or intervention programmes should emphasise community education on physical activity to rectify the misperception about physical activity.
Educational level was also found to contribute significantly towards physical activity barriers. Men with higher educational level were more likely to perceive fewer barriers than men with lower educational level. These individuals who are usually at the highest levels of income and job classifications too are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours such as physical activity engagement and proper diet than those of lower job status and incomes . They also tend to adopt more health-promoting behaviours and reduce riskier behaviours at a faster rate. This might be due to the high awareness of the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle and the capability to obtain social and material resources (such as gym memberships) that maintain physical activity even in adverse weather conditions .
On the other hand, individuals with lower educational level might be dealing with stressful environments because of work and poor lifestyle that can influence the uptake of physical activity . However, this result is different from the Japanese study , whereby, highly educated Japanese men perceived more barriers compared to less educated men. This suggests that the associations between types of barriers and population characteristics vary according to cultural background.
Strengths and limitations
This study relied on a population-based data collection and included adults aged 20 years and above from different sociodemographic backgrounds. All questionnaires and equipments had been validated and the enumerators had been trained and supervised to obtain high-quality information. The inclusion of a wide age range and different physical activity status was important to provide an insight of the association between physical inactivity and barriers. Three different domains of physical activity barriers were also included in this study which is useful for the exploration of various barriers involved in performing physical activity. This study was also believed to be the first population-based study in Malaysia to investigate perceived barriers in physical activity.
Several limitations in the present study need to be considered in the interpretation of the results presented. The subjects were recruited via purposive sampling, nonrandomized rather than a randomized sampling; hence selection biases might prevent generalization of the findings to the population. This study was a part of larger health study and interview length was a concern, only IPAQ short-form could be used to assess physical activity. The questionnaire does not discriminate leisure-time physical activities to other domains (occupation, commuting and housework). Previous studies found that voluntary or leisure-time physical activities were associated with perceived barriers . In the present study, the discrimination between leisure-time physical activities and other domains (occupation, commuting and housework) was not made, so we could not find out which type of activity exerted greater influence on the barriers score of the subjects.