OBJECTIVE To estimate the prevalence of physical activity in adolescents and to identify associated factors. METHODS A cross-sectional study was conducted with a representative sample (n=1,518, 59.2% females) of students aged between 14 and 18 years, enrolled in the public school network of the city of Curitiba, Southern Brazil, in 2006. Physical activity practice was self-reported, according to the number of days per week when they perform moderate to vigorous physical activity lasting > 60 minutes. This practice was analyzed in two distinct models. In the first model, the variable was dichotomized into "0 day" and "> 1 day"; in the second, into "< 4 days" and "> 5 days". Independent variables were as follows: biological-demographic (sex, age, body mass index); socioeconomic (parents' level of education, number of cars); behavioral (number of hours spent watching television, number of hours spent using a computer); and sociocultural (social support from family and friends and the perception of barriers to the practice of activities), tested with Poisson regression. RESULTS In the first model of analysis, the prevalence of physical activity was 58.2% (75.1% in males; 46.5% in females; p<0.001), while, in the second, it was 14.5% (22.3% and 9.1%, respectively; p<0.001). In the first model, the variables associated with physical activity were: male sex (PR=1.63, 95% CI: 1.48;1.78), social support from family (PR=1.14, 95% CI: 1.05;1.23), social support from friends (PR=1.52, 95% CI: 1.31;1.78) and high perception of barriers (PR=0.54, 95% CI: 0.46;0.62). In the second model, only male sex (PR=2.45, 95% CI: 1.73;3.46) and high perception of barriers (PR=0.24, 95% CI: 0.15;0.38) were associated with physical activity. CONCLUSIONS More than half of adolescents practice physical activity at least one day of the week, although 14.5% achieved the current recommendations. The recommended levels are associated with a lower number of factors. Gender and perception of barriers were consistently associated with physical activity levels.