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Study: Rural Moms Perceive Specific Barriers to Physical Activity

November 16, 2010
Lebanon, NH


New research has implications for cancer-risk behaviors

Anna Adachi-Mejia, PhDAnna M. Adachi-Mejia, Ph.D.

A new study from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center found that rural mothers perceive specific internal barriers to being adequately physically active. Physical activity is a key ingredient in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing excessive weight gain, factors that can significantly reduce cancer risk.

The study, "Perceived Intrinsic Barriers to Physical Activity Among Rural Mothers," is published online in the Journal of Women's Health and will appear in print in the December issue. Anna Adachi-Mejia, PhD, principal investigator of the study, is a member of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Cotton Cancer Center and a research assistant professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. "Our findings suggest that internal barriers for rural mothers - self-discipline, time, and interest - are the most salient barriers to making physical activity a priority in one's life," Dr. Adachi-Mejia said. She noted that mothers living in rural areas may be at risk for exercise deficiency also due to environmental characteristics - having a high dependence on cars, for example.

The research involved telephone interviews with nearly 1,700 mothers in rural New Hampshire and Vermont, who were asked about their level of physical activity and eight types of barriers to physical activity, based on questions from the Twin Cities Walking Survey. Barriers studied included lack of interest, lack of self-discipline, lack of time, lack of enjoyment, lack of company, lack of good weather, lack of energy, and being self-conscious about personal appearance during exercise. All eight barriers were individually associated with limiting physical activity. But after taking into account other factors that might be related to being active, such as health condition and sociodemographic categories, three significant factors emerged: lack of interest, lack of self-discipline, and time. Interestingly, accounting for number of children did not change the findings.

"We want to know how to modify behaviors to lower a person's risk of cancer," said Adachi-Mejia. "This study can help us consider how to support increased physical activity levels for rural mothers." She added that the study underscores the importance of initiatives such as Complete Streets, which support infrastructure to enable pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages and physical abilities to safely share roads with motor vehicles. Such initiatives, she said, "can help rural residents overcome the challenges of having limited opportunities to engage in active travel. Having physical activity as the default option through community infrastructure potentially removes the barriers of self-discipline, time, and interest as something that mothers are currently forced to overcome."

The research, which was conducted at the Hood Center for Children and Families, was funded in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

About Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester and Keene, N.H., and St. Johnsbury, Vt, and at 11 partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 40 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute's "Comprehensive Cancer Center" designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials online at cancer.dartmouth.edu.

For more information contact Steve Bjerklie at (603) 653-9056.

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