Taking time for leisure activities apart from the demands of work and other responsibilities helps people function better physically and mentally. In fact, the more time spent doing different types of enjoyable activities, the better a person's health tends to be, according to a new study.
"People who are engaged in multiple enjoyable activities are better off physically and psychologically," said study co-author Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D. She is a professor of psychiatry, epidemiology and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The study appears online in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
For the study, 1,400 adults reported how often they participated in a variety of leisure activities, including spending time unwinding, visiting friends or family, going on vacation, going to clubs or religious activities or playing sports.
Adults with higher scores - indicating the most time spent in different leisure activities - had lower blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and cortisol measurements, all markers of good health.
"When one is under stress, the usual thing is to cut back on enjoyable activities because you're feeling uncomfortable and you need more time to deal with the stress. But these data suggest that is the wrong thing to do and that continuing enjoyable activities you do can be helpful," Matthews said.
People who spent more time doing diverse leisure activities also reported stronger and more diverse social networks, more feelings of satisfaction and engagement in their lives and lower levels of depression. Those who logged the most leisure time also slept better and exercised more consistently, the authors say.
Other studies have examined the link between specific activities, such as exercise, and improved physical and psychological health, but this is the first to show that the accumulation of multiple sources of enjoyable activity benefits health, Matthews said.