Studies from around the world point to the inadequate participation of young people in physical activity and sport, and the consequences of this on their health. However, very few interventions to increase the levels of physical activity amongst young people have been sustainable. The aim of this paper is to use Bourdieu's notions of the logic of practice along with habitus and capital to theorise young people's participation in physical activities to add to the wealth of empirical material. Data are drawn from a cohort of rural participants in an Australian longitudinal, qualitative research project with young people from diverse social, cultural and geographical backgrounds. It was found that traditional rural gender roles impact on young women's perceptions of legitimate physical activity options and practices. The role of the family in the reproduction of the social order which sustains gendered understandings of physical activity is also explored. This paper demonstrates how Bourdieu's theories can be applied to explain gender distinctions in health behaviours. It is proposed that building bridges between epidemiological and sociological understandings of participation in physical activities will lead to the generation of more equitable and sustainable physical activity and health promotion initiatives.