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Updated 10:00 AM October 12, 2009

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  Joan Schafer Visionary Lecture
Women's struggle with exercise, healthy eating, topic of talk

Women often begin exercising to lose weight or to improve their health. This, however, can be unproductive because they won't be motivated to continue the routine permanently, an Institute for Research on Women and Gender expert says.

"These messages lead women in midlife to feel like exercise is a chore to accomplish rather than a gift they can give themselves," researcher Michelle Segar says. "Instead of empowering, as exercise has the potential to be, it is easy for women to feel enslaved by the idea or need to exercise."

Segar will give the inaugural Joan Schafer Visionary Lecture "Sustaining Women: Producing a Health Message that Motivates Change" at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 in the School of Social Work's Educational Conference Center. She will discuss why America's typical approach to promote health and prevent disease has undermined women's ability to sustain health behaviors such as exercise and healthy eating.

Women in midlife — between the ages of 40 to 60 — might be at a stage that is optimal for influencing preventive health behavior such as exercise. Midlife is a time when women naturally make changes in priorities and goals, and they spend less time taking care of children and more time taking care of their own well-being needs, she says.

If women focus on using exercise to burn calories, it could lead them to select activities they might not enjoy doing, Segar says. In addition, this could misdirect them from noticing the great physical feelings that moving one's body brings, such as reduced stress.

The health care debate has sparked new interest to get people to adopt healthy lifestyles for weight loss and illness prevention. But Segar says promoting lifestyle changes for those reasons makes it less likely that women will sustain those behaviors. This lecture will explain why and offer solutions to clinicians, health promotion professionals and other health care providers that can be used in their practice.

"Those who communicate about these behaviors (exercising) need to be strategic and smart about their health messages, and use persuasion and marketing," she says.

The lecture is free and open to the public. For additional information, call 764-9537 or go to

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