Relationship between Leisure and Mental Health

Relationship between Leisure and Mental Health

The idle man only deals with killing time, without seeing that time is the one who kills him. Voltaire

The analysis of leisure has a double complexity, on the one hand; the way in which everyone practices it and on the other, the concept of it.

The concept of leisure also has a polysemic function (poly - many, semia - meaning). For some it is work and for others it is fun (recreational leisure), in the same way someone idle consumes drugs or eats in excess (negative leisure), or even their leisure time is dedicated to being with friends (social leisure) or to paint a picture or take photos (creative leisure). One more is the paradox of feeling pleasure practicing leisure behaviors that have immediate gratification, the result of which is an improvement in health and others that gradually deteriorate it despite feeling pleasure and relative calm.


  • 1 A quick look at the definition of leisure
  • 2 Leisure and neurosciences
  • 3 A biological and evolutionary explanation
  • 4 Is leisure then good or bad for health?

A quick look at the definition of leisure

There are many definitions of leisure ones related to: free time (Wikipedia, 2016), the cessation of work, inaction or total omission of the activity, fun or occupation or rest (Royal Spanish Academy, 2016), the set of operations to which the individual can volunteer or his social participation or his free creative capacity (Dumazedier, 1968).

In this way leisure is related to a multitude of tasks. Also, there are two major classifications to understand it:

  • Negative Leisure: drug use, consumption of excess food, bets or any action that damages health or does not provide development or personal growth.
  • Positive Leisure: live with family or friends, perform an activity that benefits health, create a personal and social environment to develop new skills or reinforce existing ones and even make friends, contacts and businesses in social networks.

Leisure and neurosciences

If we experience a positive or negative state of leisure at brain He does not care, have a welfare situation and unfortunately it does not matter if pleasure is related to sex, cocaine or family life. However, each of them will bring positive or negative consequences not only to our health, but will also affect the people around us.

The so-called reward pathways of the brain are areas related to the experience of pleasure. Thoughts can activate them or some stimuli such as knowing that we will experience some activity interpreted as pleasant (expectation of happiness). Forming an addictive circle, we like to do or experience some activities and just as we experience pleasure, we like to do those activities.

The things that we like and enjoy generate pleasure, the expectation of pleasure generates pleasure and when we consume some substance to feel good, the brain is waiting for it, but if we have it it produces displeasure and the call abstinence syndrome, but we have what we like and by getting that external stimulus people are able to do extreme things like stealing or killing in the case when a leisure behavior becomes an addictive relationship.

A biological and evolutionary explanation

The evolutionary psychologist Dr. Doug Lisle explains through what he calls a motivational triad how food consumption catches us, and interestingly, it is the same mechanism of how addictive behaviors can catch us, as well as those of leisure in the positive and in the positive negative. Lisle points out, “We have biological mechanisms given by our nature to be able to survive and pass the genes from one generation to another: first, we look for pleasure as a motivation and describe, there are two things that generate that: food and sex, two other pillars one is to avoid pain and the other to do everything with minimal effort ”(Forks over knive, 2013).

Is leisure then good or bad for health?

At leisure we like all those things that generate pleasure (be it good or bad), we avoid pain (at least temporarily) and since we like leisure (good or bad) we do it by investing the minimum effort, just because we like. However, the cost in the short or long term in our leisure behaviors has a price.

In the short term they enjoy, all those things that generate pleasure because it turns on the brain circuits specialized in it, and chemical messengers such as dopamine, pleasure hormone and oxytocin, hormone of peace, relationship and rest.

Oxytocin, neutralizes the stress hormone (cortisol) creating a circle of health and well-being, it is known as the system of calm and relationship.

This system works more efficiently when the body is at rest and helps the body to grow and heal. The ability to learn and solve problems increases when we are not under the pressure of stress. Although levels of oxytocin naturally depend on a plurality of factors in each individual, such as inheritance and quality of life, the results reveal that the higher the level of oxytocin in the blood, the more intense the feeling of calm and there is more absence of stress (Uvnäs, 2009)

Perform activities such as: meditation, yoga, tai chi, exercise, massage, pray, creating and maintaining links between people, affectionate contact, sex, breastfeeding, food, sunbathing , have positive thoughts and many more, are generators of oxytocin in positive leisure. We can even have some calm temporarily when we use drugs, the big difference is knowing that in the positive leisure this hormone is produced internally and in the negative leisure comes from a chemical that when it enters the body gives us a certain pleasure, a certain euphoria and a certain peace, which is only taken with the consumption of the substance that is generally toxic, addictive and sick sooner or later to the body.

We need calm and contact, not only to avoid illness, but also to enjoy life and practically all positive leisure activities help us achieve this task.

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