Psychological Restoration through Indoor and Outdoor Leisure Activities

Article excerpt

Leisure activities have long been considered beneficial for mental and physical health (Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993). They help prevent diseases, improve physical health, and benefit mental health by reducing anxiety and depression and increasing positive emotions (Godbey, 2003; Kelly, 1996). Warburton, Nicol, and Bredin (2006) suggested that people are now experiencing greater physical and mental problems due to a decline in undertaking activities in natural environments. Duvall (2011) indicated that regularly engaging in outdoor activities can improve physical and mental health. Other studies have also indicated that participating in moderate-intensity leisure activities (e.g., walking) can effectively reduce psychological anxiety and improve mood (Fox, 1999; Roe & Aspinall, 2011 ; Scully, Kremer, Meade, Graham, & Dudgeon, 1998). In addition, studies have shown that contact with nature can provide physical and psychological benefits. For example, horticultural therapy has been shown to mediate emotional, cognitive, and sensory motor function improvement, and increase social participation, health, well-being, and life satisfaction (Jarrott, Kwack, & Relf, 2002; Smith, 1998). Time spent outdoors (e.g., in a garden) has also been shown to facilitate restoration for older adults compared to time spent indoors (Ottosson & Grahn, 2005). The majority of the above-mentioned studies focused on the physical and psychological benefits of outdoor activities. Few studies have explored the effects of indoor activities on mental health.

Since the Taiwanese government implemented the two-day weekend policy in 2001, people have had more time for leisure. Because of rapid urban developments, leisure activities have become more diverse, and people are increasingly engaging in indoor activities to relax and reduce stress, such as shopping online, chatting over the Internet, and indulging in high tea in cafes. The 2005 survey of leisure of Taiwanese citizens conducted by National Statistics, R.O.C. indicated that the indoor activities most commonly performed by Taiwanese citizens were as follows: watching TV (68.3%), surfing the Internet (11.3%), chatting (8.1%), and listening to music or reading (5.7%). The most popular outdoor activities were as follows: visiting friends (33.4%), walking (18.4%), exercising and playing ball games (15.7%), and going to the cinema (12.7%) (Wang, Tang, Chen, & Tseng, 2011). Another survey also indicated an annual increase in the number of people performing indoor activities (e.g., surfing the Internet), whereas the number of people participating in outdoor activities has decreased each year, especially among the younger population (Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, 2005). Instead of participating in outdoor activities, most young people prefer to surf the Internet at home when they have free time; this affects their physical and mental health (Beutel, Brahler, Glaesmer, Kuss, Wolfling, & Muller, 2011; Velezmoro, Lacefield, & Roberti, 2010). Therefore, this study investigated whether different types of leisure activities affect mental health differently; and if so, whether indoor or outdoor activities vary in the way they benefit mental health.

Literature Review

Psychological Restoration Theory

Attention restoration theory (ART) (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) and stress reduction theory (SRT) (Ulrich, 1984; Ulrich, Simons, Losito, Fiorito, Miles, & Zelson, 1991) are two of the key frameworks commonly used to understand restorative environments. ART focuses on the cognitive aspects and emphasizes that engaging in activities in the natural environment can restore direct attention (Kaplan, 1995). Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) argued that direct attention requires mental concentration. As shown in Kaplan's study, visiting an appealing natural environment can enable an individual to maintain or restore her or his direct attention. …