Journal of Professional Nursing

Women Maintaining Physical Activity at Midlife: Contextual Complexities  

Judy Yarwood, RN, BHlthSc (Nursing), MA (Hons), MCNA(NZ), Principal Lecturer, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, New Zealand
Jenny Carryer, RN, PhD, FCNA(NZ), MNZM Professor of Nursing, Massey University, New Zealand
Mary Jo Gagan, PhD, FNP, FAANP, Family Nurse Practitioner, Tucson, USA

Reference:  Yarwood, J., Carryer, J., & Gagan, M. J. (2005). Women maintaining physical activity at midlife: Contextual complexities. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 21(3), 24-37.  


Health benefits associated with being active are well recognised and yet for many, particularly women at midlife, how this activity is maintained is both complex and poorly understood. This paper describes a qualitative feminist study in which 10 midlife women participated in two semi-structured interviews to explore factors influencing their ability to maintain physical activity over time. A thematic analysis uncovered participants’ beliefs and behaviours regarding their experience of, and strategies used to maintain, regular activity. Four core themes emerged; ‘exercise is part of me, part of my life’, ‘the importance of being fit and healthy’, ‘exercise interweaves and changes with life situations’, and ‘constraints and conflicts’. Encompassed within these four was a desire for life long good health and physical fitness. Maintaining regular physical activity was intrinsically connected to family, relationships and work. Findings from this study indicate how important it is for nurses to consider contextual realities when encouraging and supporting midlife women to maintain physical activity.  

Midlife women, physical activity, feminist, contextual realities

Over the last decade, increasingly women at midlife have been encouraged to participate in regular physical activity as a health promoting and disease prevention strategy. The term physical activity is understood to be body movement that increases energy expenditure, and can be categorised by purpose, intensity and/or the context in which the activity occurs (National Health Committee, 1998). Ulbrich (1999, p. 66) suggests that “while all exercise is physical activity, not all physical activity is exercise”. Despite these two words being used interchangeably in the literature Ross and Cowley (1997) argue they are not synonymous, and see exercise as one of many forms of physical activity, as do the authors of this paper.

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