Understanding perceptions of health, lifestyle risks and chronic disease in middle age

Publication Name

Journal of Clinical Nursing


Aim: The aim of this paper is to explore the perceptions, attitudes and beliefs of middle-aged Australians around their health, lifestyle risks and chronic disease. Background: Health promotion and risk reduction are important to stem the rising prevalence of chronic disease. While there has been much emphasis on supporting these strategies in older Australians, there has been less attention on those in middle age. However, as this group age, their health will inevitably be impacted by lifestyle risk. Design: A qualitative descriptive study using semi-structured interviews. Reporting was guided by the COREQ checklist. Methods: Thirty-four participants aged 40–65 years were recruited across South Eastern New South Wales, Australia, using convenience sampling. Semi-structured interviews were conducted by four registered nurses with qualitative research experience. Verbatim transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis. Results: Sixteen women and 18 men participated in the interviews. Four themes emerged, namely: adopting healthy lifestyles; denial; an impetus for change; and sustaining change. Perceptions about what constituted good health varied, with male participants being more ambivalent about their health. Impetus for change was mostly influenced by family history, awareness of health risks and identification of risks by health professionals. Participants found sustaining change challenging, particularly with regard to smoking cessation and dietary modifications. Conclusions: Understanding the perceptions of health of middle-aged people is important and enables health professionals to engage in early behavioural change conversations that consider perceived barriers to lifestyle modification. Findings from this study emphasise the importance of discussions about lifestyle risk to reduce the future burden of chronic disease. Relevance to Clinical Practice: These findings illustrate the importance of understanding perceptions of health to guide primary health care nurses to develop person-centred health promotion and chronic disease prevention strategies in this age group.

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