Walking as a Meaningful Leisure Occupation the Implications for Occupational Therapy

Article excerpt


Walking is an easy everyday activity that most of us do automatically However, recently, walking has been employed by health promotion strategists to improve the health of the general public, and used therapeutically in settings such as psychiatric services (McDevitt et al 2005, Richardson et al 2005). Studies have demonstrated its physiological and psychological benefits in alleviating depression in clinical and non-clinical populations (Richardson et al 2005, Dawson et al 2006, Roe and Aspinall 2011). Although the health benefits for physical activity have received increasing research attention, occupational benefits specific to walking are not well developed.

Participating in leisure occupations enhances physical wellbeing, mental health and social functioning (Ball et al 2007), personal satisfaction and growth (Mosey 1996), as well as contributing to personal and social identity (Taylor 2003). Leisure is 'a shared human experience engaged in for the purpose of amusement, relaxation or self-actualisation' (Mosey 1996, p80). Leisure occupations have received heightened attention in occupational therapy (Di Bona 2000), perhaps due to providing wellness and health promotion in the community (Wilcock 1998, College of Occupational Therapists [COT] 2008).

The benefits of leisure have been researched extensively (Taylor 2003, Ball et al 2007) but Di Bona (2000) recommended more research into leisure as an occupation to understand its potential benefits and to provide evidence to support its use in practice. Johnson (1996) believed that the more we understand how occupations maintain, enhance and promote health and wellbeing, the more we can put this knowledge into practice.

Despite this, literature focusing specifically on the meaning of walking as a leisure occupation is limited.


Occupational therapists believe that people have an intrinsic drive to be active and that engaging in satisfactory, meaningful occupations is a key therapeutic tool in promoting health and wellbeing (Wilcock 1998). Occupations are defined as all the things people do everyday that are purposeful, meaningful and culturally relevant (Christiansen and Townsend 2004). Through what they do, people develop skills, meet basic needs, satisfy the intrinsic need for mastery and competence, and attain group acceptability (COT 2006). Occupations are important in developing personal and social identity (Yerxa et al 1989). Taylor (2003) suggested that the occupational component of leisure impacts on an individual's concept of self, and that group membership confers both a social and a self identity.


It is the human relationship with occupation for health that forms the basis for occupational science (Wilcock 1998). The categorisation of occupation must include the concept of meaning to be congruent with this innovative paradigm (Persson et al 2001). Participation in meaningful occupations can further give individuals a sense of purpose in their lives (Christiansen and Townsend 2004).

Wilcock (1998) explicated the need for occupation to be purposeful and balanced, not only in self-care, productivity and leisure, but also in people's unique capabilities and interests, as well as in their physical, social and mental needs.

A more explicit focus on meaning and value dimensions in different occupations (Persson et al 2001) will ensure that the relevance of meaningful outcomes are not lost in occupational therapy practice. Furthermore, understanding meaning allows occupational therapists to analyse which occupations to choose for specific therapeutic purposes (Hvalsoe and Josephsson 2003).


Walking is one of the easiest, safest and most inexpensive forms of exercise (Richardson et al 2005). It can be done almost anywhere and almost anyone can do it, so it can be readily incorporated into daily routine (Richardson et al 2005, Department of Health [DH] 2011). …