The terms leisure and recreation relate to the period of spare time in which individuals are exempted from work and duties and are able to engage in activities of their choice not imposed by necessity. Recreational and leisure activities depend on individual interests and personal definition of relaxation, diversion, entertainment and pleasure. Both terms encompass a very diverse and broad field of activities including sports, food and dining, various arts and crafts, media entertainment, gaming, literature, festivals and fairs, shopping, social clubs, family activities and vacations as well as volunteering and hobbies.
The broad definition of both terms is "non-work," but some argue that leisure refers to the specific period of spare, "non-obligated" and "non-constrained" time, while recreation describes the specific activities which fill this leisure time. Those who describe leisure as a state of mind refer to recreation as physical activity. Such activities have favorable effects on human health because they are good for body and mind. According to some historians there was a leisure and recreation revolution in the United States between 1890 and 1914. Among many societal changes this period, known as the Progressive era, introduced new opportunities for leisure and recreation such as motion pictures, and made them accessible to the population by making them widely available and affordable. Consequently, during that time many Americans started engaging in organized sport activities for which many baseball parks and other sports facilities were built. By the early 1900s a variety of entertainment venues proliferated including amusement parks, theatres, opera houses, dance halls and cinemas.
The leisure and recreation revolution in America was a result of factors including urbanization, immigration and industrialization. With the development of electric street lights, trolleybuses and the subway, urban centers became safer and more accessible, which attracted more people to move into cities from the country. Immigrants developed entertainment venues and organized events in their native languages. For example, Italian, Greek, Irish and Jewish immigrants in particular promoted the nickelodeons which were mainly located in immigrant and working-class neighborhoods and for that reason were called "workingman's college" and "poor men's entertainment." Because of their low price those theatres gave blue-collar workers access to motion pictures and sports events.
Another reason for the growth of leisure and recreational activities in the United States was the decrease in the number of hours in the working week as a result of labor unions' campaigns and work safety concerns in the beginning of the 20th century. Nevertheless, salaried employees such as government officials, clerks and administrative officers increased around that time leading to the formation of the white-collar workforce which received higher wages and was entitled to more vacation time — and could afford spending money on entertainment. This new class contributed to the formation of a new urban consumer culture which demanded more commercial amusements, thus turning leisure and recreation into consumption. As a result big department stores and retail chains replaced small family businesses and sports turned into professions with the foundation of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1876. Religious and intellectual leaders in the United States also contributed to the development of leisure and recreation by adding to the values of thrift and industriousness the "duty to play" because of their concerns that overwork threatened the health of the American nation.
Advances in technology introduced "automatic" amusements as an alternative to live entertainment. The invention of the phonograph and the gramophone in the late 19th century transformed leisure time because they made entertainment accessible for all, in all venues. The late 20th century Information Age introduced web surfing, interactive gaming and instant messaging which compete with traditional forms of entertainment. Leisure and recreation have not only positive effects on human health, but also serve as "a force for human growth, development and well-being." Because of their favorable effects the World Leisure organization was founded in 1952 aiming at improving the quality of life worldwide. The organization informs societies about the opportunities and effects of leisure and also entitles individuals to recreational activities through the Charter of Leisure. In the charter is stated that "all people have a basic human right to leisure activities" and "governments should ensure their citizens a variety of accessible leisure and recreational opportunities of the highest quality."