Benefits of LeisureBy Jo Southall -
What does leisure mean to you? Golf? Football? Half an hour in the garden? Maybe a stroll down the high street to pick up a new pair of shoes?
‘Leisure’ covers a really wide range of activities including sports, crafts and relaxation. The benefits of leisure are as diverse as the types of leisure activities available.
There are some benefits that are common to all types of leisure, others are activity specific. Leisure can help maintain physical and mental health by acting as a buffer to stress (Coleman, 1993). Leisure can also help people recover from stress (Pressman et al., 2009).
Some of the main benefits of leisure are social. Doing leisure activities with other people can provide social support and decrease loneliness (Coleman and Iso-Ahola, 1993). Since leisure activities are often done in groups it provides a great opportunity to make new relationships and strengthen existing ones (Kraus, 1990; Garcia et al., 2005 cited in Ball et al., 2007). People with good social relationships have been shown to have better psychological well-being and physical health, this includes stronger immune systems and better cardiac health (Cohen, 2004).
Alongside the social benefits there are physical ones too. Physical leisure activities can improve fitness and help people stay active as they age (Glass et al., 1999; Schroll 2003; Crombie et al., 2004 cited in Ball et al., 2007).
That said, physical activities for leisure are not without risk.
According to the Department of health (2011) the easiest forms of exercise to do are those that fit into everyday life, physical activities like walking and cycling.
Cycling regularly can significantly improve cardiovascular fitness and reduces risk factors for many cardiac conditions as well as some cancers (Oja et al., 2011). Unfortunately cycling in urban areas does carry some risks, these include inhaling airborne pollution and being involved with traffic accidents, luckily the benefits have been proven to outweigh the risks (De Hartog et al., 2011).
A study of Nordic walking and found that participants increased their walking speed, increased their upper body strength and decreased their neck and back pain. Nordic walking also improved the oxygen uptake in patients with peripheral arterial disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Mathieson and Lin, 2014).
Dancing is well known for being fun but one study of dance for disadvantaged adults found a few more benefits including weight loss, exercise, improved mood, a more positive outlook, increased motivation on dancing days, decreased pain, better sleep and making new friends (Murrock, 2016).
If you’re looking for a less energetic leisure activity, how about Tai Chi? Tai Chi has well documented health benefits for all ages. For young folks, 12 weeks of Tai Chi can make you stronger and help improve balance. Middle aged people can improve their balance and reduce high blood pressure and for elderly people regular Tai Chi has been shown to reduce falls (Thornton, 2004).
The benefits of leisure are not limited to improvements in oxygen uptake and balance, leisure activities can help older people adapt to life with a long term health condition (Hutchinson and Nimrod, 2012).
So we’ve established that Leisure helps you fight off stress and stay fit but what else? Well, leisure activities also have lots of benefits to mental health. Leisure activities can help people recover quicker from negative life events such as the loss of a loved one (Janke et al., 2008; Kleiber et al., 2002). Leisure can provide a distraction, a comfort and a sense of control when dealing with a variety of chronic health conditions (Nimrod and Hutchinson, 2010). Doing half an hour of something you love can act as a ‘breather’ from stressful life events. Positive emotions associated with leisure activities can disrupt negative thoughts and feelings (Folkman, 1997).
It’s generally agreed that most kinds of leisure can boost your mood but being outdoors is particularly effective for improving mood and boosting wellbeing (Ewert et al., 2003; Schwartz and Campagna 2008).
Physical activity itself can actually reduce symptoms of depression because of the ‘happy chemicals’ your body releases when you’re exercising (Aan het Rot et al., 2009).
Despite the positive benefits of leisure for people with depression there are some drawbacks. Many people with depression can struggle to enjoy even the most fantastic activities and some people also lack the motivation to get stuck in (Wasserman, 2006; Nydegger, 2008).
It’s worth remembering that just because something is fun, doesn’t mean it’s good for you! There are very few health benefits associated with a trip to the pub. The social aspect to a pint with your friends can also be gained through a shopping trip or a game of 5-a-side football!
There are numerous benefits to leisure activities and often the risks can be managed through careful planning. I hope this article has convinced you to take a bit of time and enjoy a bit of leisure.
If you’re feeling academic I’ve included my reference list below & if you’d like to read more of my work please visit my website.
Ciao for now!
- Aan het Rot, M., Collins, K. A., & Fitterling, H. L. (2009). Physical exercise and depression. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 76, 204-214
- Ball M, Corr S, Knight J, Lowis MJ (2007) An investigation into the leisure occupations of older adults. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70(9), 393-400.
- Chang, P., Wray, L.Lin, Y. (2014) Social relationships, leisure activity, and health in older adults. Health Psychology. 33(6), 516-523.
- Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59, 676 – 684
- Coleman, D. (1993). Leisure Based Social Support, Leisure Dispositions and Health. Journal of Leisure Research, 25(4), 350-361
- Coleman, D., & Iso-Ahola, S. E. (1993). Leisure and health: The role of social support and self-determination. Journal of Leisure Research, 25, 111–128.
- de Hartog, J., Boogaard, H., Nijland, H.Hoek, G. (2011) Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?. Epidemiology. 22, S76-S77.
- Department of Health (2011) Start active, stay active: A report on physical activity from the four home countries' Chief Medical Officers. Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement and Protection.
- Folkman, S. (1997). Positive psychological states and coping with severe stress. Social Science and Medicine, 45, 1207-1221
- Hutchinson, S. L., & Nimrod, G. (2012). Leisure as a resource for successful aging by older adults with chronic health conditions. The International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 74, 41– 65.
- Janke, M. C., Nimrod, G., & Kleiber, D. A. (2008). Leisure activity and depressive symptoms of widowed and married women in later life. Journal of Leisure Research, 40, 250 –266
- Kleiber, D., Hutchinson, S., & Williamson, R. (2002). Leisure as a resource in transcending negative life events: Self-protection, self-restoration and personal transformation. Leisure Sciences, 24, 219-235
- Mathieson, S.Lin, C. (2014) Health benefits of Nordic walking; a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 48(21), 1577-1578.
- Murrock, C.Graor, C. (2016) Depression, Social Isolation, and the Lived Experience of Dancing in Disadvantaged Adults. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. 30(1), 27-34.
- Neal, J., Sirgy, M. Uysal, M. (2004) Measuring the Effect of Tourism Services on Travelers? Quality of Life: Further Validation. Soc Indic Res. 69(3), 243-277.
- Nydegger, R. (2008). Understanding and treating depression. Westport, CT: Praeger
- Oja, P., Titze, S., Bauman, A., de Geus, B., Krenn, P., Reger-Nash, B.Kohlberger, T. (2011) Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 21(4), 496-509.
- Polatajko, H. Davis, J. Stewart, D. Cantin, N. Amoroso, B. Purdie, L. Zimmerman, D. (2007) Specifying the domain of concern: Occupation as core. In. Townsend, E. Polatajko, H. Enabling Occupation II: Advancing an occupational therapy vision for health, well-being, and justice through occupation. CAOT Publications ACE, Ottawa, pp. 17 - 31.
- Pressman, S., Matthews, K. A., Cohen, S., Martire, L. M., Scheier, M., Baum, A., & Schulz, R. (2009). Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71, 725–732.
- Sirgy, M., Kruger, P., Lee, D. Yu, G. (2010) How Does a Travel Trip Affect Tourists' Life Satisfaction?. Journal of Travel Research. 50(3), 261-275.
- Thornton, E. (2004) Health benefits of Tai Chi exercise: improved balance and blood pressure in middle-aged women. Health Promotion International. 19(1), 33-38.
- Wasserman, D. (2006). Depression: The facts. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.