Leisure and Health: The Role of Social Support and Self-Determination

Article excerpt

Introduction

Leisure is believed to have beneficial consequences for psychological well-being and health (Caldwell & Smith, 1988; Chalip, Thomas & Voyle, 1992; Iso-Ahola, 1988; Iso-Ahola & Weissinger, 1984; Kleiber, 1985; Tinsley & Tinsley, 1986; Weissinger & Iso-Ahola, 1984). Hull (1990) has suggested that leisure activities influence health by promoting positive moods. Leisure may help overcome loneliness and thus contribute to people's well-being (Caldwell & Smith, 1988). Some theorists (Caldwell & Smith, 1988; Iso-Ahola & Weissinger, 1984; Weissinger & Iso-Ahola, 1984) have argued that dispositions associated with leisure experiences reduce the negative effects of stress on health. However, the processes through which leisure contributes to health have remained unclear. This paper argues that leisure benefits health by buffering people against personal stress produced by life circumstances. Leisure-based social support and leisure-generated self-determination are identified as two important mediators of the influence of leisure on the stress-health relationship.

Health has been defined both narrowly and broadly. The narrower definition, which is consistent with a bio-medical view, conceptualizes health as the degree to which people are not suffering from illnesses. In a broader, holistic sense, health refers to a state of well-being which encompasses emotional, physical, social and spiritual health (Caldwell & Smith, 1988; Headley, Holstrom & Wearing, 1985). Although the importance of analyzing relationships between leisure and broader conceptualizations of health is recognized, this review focuses on the narrower conceptualization of health--the absence of illness. Many of the studies (Cohen & Hoberman, 1983) of social influences on health have used illness symptomatology measures, including symptoms of depression, which are based on this narrower conceptualization of health.

Various life events, especially negative events such as losing one's job and financial debt, have been shown to lead to a higher incidence of illness (Thoits, 1983), including depression (Brown & Harris, 1978; Cohen & Hoberman, 1983), the onset of coronary heart disease (Hinkle, 1974; Theorell, 1974), and a host of illnesses and illness symptoms as reflected in illness symptomatology checklists (Cohen & Hoberman, 1983; Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1981). However, how social and psychological factors impact health is being increasingly investigated in terms of the mediating role of "life stress" (Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Rabkin & Streuning, 1976). Life stress can be considered a psychological state involving the cognitive appraisal of life events and of one's inability to deal with them (Sarason & Sarason, 198 1). To illustrate, the death of a spouse may induce varying levels of stress according to the meaning of the death to a surviving partner. Indeed, people's perceptions of life events have been shown to be more important in predicting illness outcomes than the objective occurrences of those events (Krantz, Grunberg & Baum, 1985).

Although significant, the magnitude of the impact of life events on health has been shown to be small; typically life event stress has accounted for about 10% of illness severity variance (Rabkin & Streuning, 1976). However, the level of impact of life events on health may, in fact, be greater than the one reported because the effect is likely to be moderated by personal and social factors. Furthermore, studies have generally failed to demonstrate that positive life events reduce illness symptoms (Cohen & Hoberman, 1983; Thoits, 1983; Vinokur & Caplan, 1986). This could be because even positive life events have an element of change which may generate stress that offsets any benefit that positive life events might have (Vinokur & Caplan, 1986).

When life problems occur people usually seek to allieviate stress by invoking coping strategies, such as avoidance, devaluing the threat, obtaining support, and problem solving on the crisis. …