In the course of human existence, leisure has been perceived as an essential aspect of life. Harris (2005) defines leisure as the activities that a person undertakes during free time away from productivity and the experience associated with these activities. Leisure plays an integral role in the development and fulfillment of the lives of individuals (Harris 2005, 25). Empirical research suggests that leisure activities have more impact on a person’s quality of life than any other aspect of experience and behavior; however, the traditional work ethic places emphasis on productivity, which implies that people inclined to the traditional work ethic are likely to shun away leisure activities. Taking into consideration all the evidence pointing out the benefits of leisure and recreation, Cross (2004) argues that there is the need to balance the traditional work ethic with leisure. In fact, many countries are implementing official government policies to promote participation in leisure activities. There is scientific documentation outlining the benefits of leisure activities such as mental and physical health, family bonding, environmental benefits and economic development (Jenkins & Pigram 2003). Further, many people can readily outline the benefits of leisure and recreation such as physical and health fitness, stress, testing skills, coping, learning, and family bonding. This evidence illustrates that benefits gained from leisure activities are probably equal and may surpass the benefits attained from other public utilities like fire protection, sanitation, transportation, educational, and housing services. It is evident that these services have well established, and clearly articulated funding policies and programs whereas there are few government units that give the same resources and attention towards the provision of public services (Rojek, Shaw & Veal 2006). Perhaps, contributing factors to this state of affairs is the “Puritan Ethic” that opposes social productivity, which is a misconception because an individual can play and work hard, but recreation is required for efficient work performance (Cross 2004). Most benefits of leisure are accrued at the individual level for recreationists using the leisure opportunities; however, these individual benefits result in other benefits having collective or social merit. This paper makes a case that there is the need to substantially and widely appreciate the social good of leisure. The paper outlines five key benefits of leisure, which include economic, physiological, environmental, psychological and social benefits. The paper also evaluates whether the benefits of leisure are feasible to achieve in a modern society.
Scientific evidence has documented the physiological benefits associated with regular physical exercises. Persistent aerobic exercises results in cardiovascular benefits through reducing the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which in turn increase the density of lipids in the blood and prevents hypertension (McLean, Hurd & Brattain 2007). The fundamental inference from this observation is that outdoor recreational activities improve physical wellness. Studies affirm that people who engage in park activities regularly have less doctor visits, low blood pressure and body mass indexes than people who do not participate in park activities. In aIDition, outdoor recreational activities offer an ideal opportunity to participate in physical exercise (Leitner & Leitner 2004). A study reports that the accessibility of recreational facilities in an area has a profound effect on the levels of physical activities undertaken by residents. Regular exercise helps in reducing spinal problems, improving neuropsychological functioning, and enhances bone mass and strength. Further, exercising helps in increasing muscle strength and lung capacity, which reduces the risk of diseases and increases the physical wellness of an individual (Jeannae et al. 2003). Whereas all these benefits of regular exercise cannot be attributed utterly to leisure, many people embark on exercising during leisure time. In aIDition, physical activities are a prerequisite of most recreational activities that are undertaken with personal goals in mind rather than achieving physical fitness. Most of the aforementioned physiological benefits are derived from stress management activities undertaken purposefully during leisure times (Goodin et al. 2005). These behaviors also play a vital role in promoting psycho physiological advantages such as reducing anxiety and tension, enhancing physical and mental relaxation, reducing stress hormones and positive alterations of mood; these benefits result in an enhanced individual outlook towards life. The fundamental inference is that enhanced relaxed states lead to other benefits like improved work and social productivity and create an overall sense of individual wellbeing. Although the psychological benefits benefit individuals, they mount to broader implications that result in social good of the public because the society profits from healthy and productive individuals (Dru 2009).
Besides economic and physiological benefits, there is empirical evidence pointing out the psychological benefits of participating in leisure activities. Cross (2005) considers mental wellness as an essential component of overall health that influences physical wellness. Taking part in leisure activities helps in improving stress management and reducing depression. Goodin et al. (2005) points out that leisure provides an individual with the opportunity to achieve balance in life. The California State Parks report of 2005 reveals that participation in leisure activities helps in reducing depression (Kraus 2006). Further, the report maintained that the thought of past outdoor recreational experiences helps in improving moods. The list of psychological benefits associated with leisure activities is lengthy, which includes perceived sense of individual independence, self worth, autonomy and freedom; improved self reliance, competence and confidence; enhanced leadership skills; and improved interpersonal relationship skills such as high levels of tolerance and understanding (Leitner & Leitner 2004). Other reported psychological benefits of leisure activities include improved creativity, cognitive efficiency and problem solving skills. All these psychological benefits serve to enhance the quality of life because physical recreation improves self esteem, which results in considerable impacts on mental and physical health. In the American Recreation Coalition study undertaken in 2000, 90% of participants reported high levels of satisfaction in terms of their mental and health fitness (Stebbins 2007). On the contrary, about 60% of people who did not engage in physical activity reported dissatisfaction with their physical fitness and mental health (Sharp et al. 2006). According to Goodin et al. (2006), the psychological benefits of leisure play a significant role in maintaining and promoting characteristics that improve a person’s ability to contribute to, and function in the society. This implies that these psychological benefits are of significant advantage to people and contribute towards the social good of the community because the welfare of a society is evident through the welfare of the people (Torkildsen 2005).
Leisure also results in social and cultural benefits (Cross 2004). Conceivably, social benefits are the most documented contributions of leisure, which include taking pride in one’s community and the resulting community satisfaction. For instance, communities take pride in their local magnificent amenity resources, sports teams, and monuments, which help people to understand their culture better (Jewell 1997). Leisure opportunities and resources play an essential role in maintaining identity and central values of the community. Without doubt, spending on leisure by tourists is significant in guaranteeing stability and encouraging economic development of various communities, states and the nation. As aforementioned, it is apparent that both onsite and offsite utilization of recreation facilities helps in promoting historic and cultural awareness and improving the understanding of the natural environment (Jeannae et al. 2003). Further, leisure activities and resources play a pivotal role in maintaining and enhancing ethnic identities and meeting the distinctive requirements of certain segments in society that cannot be realized otherwise. At some stage in leisure time, there is the strengthening of family bonds and other forms of social integration and cohesion, which helps in aIDing meaning to life. For instance, leisure does not only encourage the formation of a healthier societal discourse but also strengthens family relations. Creating time recreation makes a person to spend time with special individuals in the family and friends such as elderly, children and persons with disabilities, which helps in strengthening relationships and ultimately strengthens society at large resulting in social integration and cohesion that attaches meaning to life. Sharp et al. (2006) affirms that companionship and social support systems results in longer, disease-free and high quality life. It is apparent that these systems emphasize on the utilization of leisure opportunities. Goodin et al. (2005) believes that leisure is a prerequisite for child development, reducing social alienation and facilitating recovery and treatment of institutionalized populations. In aIDition, leisure serves to ease the burden of confinement for certain populations such as jailed individuals. According to Rojek, Shaw, & Veal (2005), appropriate administration and structuring of leisure opportunities can lead to significant eradication of criminal behavior, drug abuse and other deviant behavior in society.
Jenkins & Pigram (2008) cite significant contributions of leisure towards environmental protection. Although environmental benefits are not well documented as the aforementioned benefits, they are readily observable. The need to establish recreational opportunities and places implies that people have an obligation to maintain and protect the environment from potential harm. The use leisure opportunities such as forest resorts and local parks contribute significantly towards the creation of a greener environment (Dru 2009). As a result, leisure is not only vital for physical and health fitness, and strong relationships, but also contributes towards a greener environment. The 1964 Wilderness Act for recreation had the primary objective of preserving the leisure opportunities for the primitive forms of recreation. This implies that preservation and creation of recreation opportunities is one of the numerous driving forces used to protect the natural environment, heritage sites and cultural histories. Cross (2004) assumes that on-site recreational utilization and appreciation of leisure areas helps in promoting environmental learning and nurturing environmentally sound behaviors, which are vital towards the attainment of sustainability.
In conclusion, it is evident that there are numerous benefits of leisure that led to the social good of the community. The paper has identified five core benefits of leisure including economic, physiological, environmental, psychological and social benefits. It is evident that these benefits are observed at both the individual and societal level. In aIDition, it is evident that these benefits are feasible in the modern society. The paper also affirmed that the benefits gained from leisure activities are probably equal and may surpass the benefits attained from other public utilities like fire protection, sanitation, transportation, educational, and housing services. However, this social good has been appreciated and promoted by only a few government units. Government programs usually allocate more resources on other public services, yet fail to recognize the contributions of leisure to the larger society. In order to reap the benefits of leisure, there is the need to the government, at all levels, to identify and acknowledge the value of leisure and allocate appropriate resources towards promoting leisure opportunities in the community. In aIDition, there is the need to sensitize the public on the benefits of participating in leisure activities. The government must award leisure the same parity it gives other public services; achieving this requires the need to integrate the benefits of leisure in the principles of public management and finance.
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