Maintaining physical activity as a health-promoting behaviour for midlife women : a feminist perspective : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (Nursing), Massey University
Whilst being physically active is linked to many health benefits, it appears maintenance of activity is both complex and poorly understood. Ten women participated in this research to explore the positive and negative factors that may influence midlife women to maintain physical activity over time. The perceived benefits of physical activity as a health-promoting behaviour have been found to be firmly located within the biomedical discourse, with disease prevention accorded primacy by a consensus of health and social disciplines. The individualistic nature of this discourse mostly ignores contextual determinants, which has necessitated a feminist approach be taken in this research to ensure that the everyday reality of midlife women living in a gendered society was recognised. The three discourses of physical activity taken up by the participants - disease prevention, health and well-being and the "body beautiful" - had resonance with the currently competing discourses in society. All three discourses appear to be constituted within a health imperative, which strongly motivated all participants to maintain physical activity. Whilst the desire to maintain such activity was axiomatic, the context in which this occurred was frequently problematic. The interweaving and changing life situations clearly illustrated the relevance of the social context in which these women were physically active. Nurses' position within health promotion discourses has been located within and constrained by the individualistic bio-medical discourse. The limitations inherent in risk and lifestyle behaviours appear to have prevented examination of the contextual reality of women's lives. Within the political and health ideology currently underpinning health care there are opportunities for nurses to expand their practice to incorporate social determinants. In so doing they can claim their place as autonomous practitioners who emphasize promoting health within a contextual reality, thus acknowledging the uniqueness, diversity and complexity of women's lives.