Academic journal article Adultspan Journal

Midlife Women's Negotiations of Barriers to and Facilitators of Physical Activity: Implications for Counselors

Academic journal article Adultspan Journal

Midlife Women's Negotiations of Barriers to and Facilitators of Physical Activity: Implications for Counselors

Article excerpt

The authors investigated barriers to exercise and facilitators that enable midlife women to engage in an active lifestyle. Findings provide counselors with insight into the meanings that women ascribe to physical activity so they can better assist clients in making choices that enhance their overall health and wellness.


The Surgeon General's Report has identified physical inactivity as a major health risk factor in U.S. society (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 1996). The health benefits associated with physical activity are related to reducing preventable risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the development of Type II diabetes (DHHS, 1996). Furthermore, regular exercise is essential to healthy aging, because it not only reduces medical risks but also decreases the likelihood of physical injuries and prevents functional limitations that are associated with age (Fisher, Pickering, & Li, 2002). Current research shows that physical activity is particularly beneficial to older women, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis and certain types of cancer (Eyler et al., 1997).

There is also a strong body of research demonstrating the positive effects of physical activity on psychological health, and exercise is considered an important component of holistic wellness (Myers & Sweeney, 2005). Exercise is associated with significant psychological benefits, including increased energy, improved self-esteem, self-concept, and sense of self-efficacy (Chung & Baird, 1999; Kennedy, 2007; McAuley et al., 2008; Myers & Sweeney, 2005; Netz, Wu, Becker, & Tenenbaum, 2005). Furthermore, regular exercise reduces stress and is an effective treatment for mild anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance. In fact, research has provided strong evidence for augmenting traditional forms of psychotherapy with exercise (Stathopoulou, Power, Berry, Smits, & Otto, 2006). One recent study of women experiencing panic disorder found that those who received cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in addition to engaging in a home-based walking program had lower depression and anxiety scores than did those who received CBT alone (Merom et al., 2008).

Despite the well-documented benefits of exercise, women in particular are at a disproportionate risk for disease because they are reported to have a lower rate of physical activity than men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1995). According to Caspersen and Merritt (1995), older women have the lowest rates of physical activity of any demographic group. So that counselors can better understand why midlife women may choose not to participate in physical activity, despite its positive benefits for physical and psychological health, the purpose of this article is to describe the results of a qualitative study regarding women's perceptions of barriers to and facilitators of physical activity.

A considerable amount of research has focused on the ways that women's physical activity and leisure are constrained (Shaw, 1994). Eyler and colleagues (1997) identified lack of time; family support; concerns about safety; and personal factors, such as self-efficacy and self-motivation, as determinants of physical activity among women. Sociodemographic variables such as race, less education, low socioeconomic status, and being an older adult were also markers for inactivity. They also reported that women who are middle-aged or older were discouraged from vigorous physical activity in their youth and thus had little experience with physical activity. For these women, the social and gender roles that suggested that sports was "unladylike" or that women who participated in sports would develop a masculine appearance, deterred many women from participating in vigorous physical activity.

Other qualitative studies (Harrington, Dawson, & Bolla, 1992; Henderson & Allen, 1991) have suggested that women's "ethic of care" (Gilligan, 1982) constrained physical activity because women often provide for the needs of others, neglecting their own needs. …

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