Leisure activities have a significant impact on older adults’ quality of life. Despite the benefits of leisure, seniors face numerous constraints to leisure participation, including increased functional impairment, social isolation and lower motivation. Facing more constraints to leisure may lead to a gradual change in the significance of leisure to older adults’ quality of life. In this context, there are two contradictory hypotheses. One hypothesis implies that leisure becomes less important to quality of life with age, as seniors may become less activity-oriented and more self‑reflecting. Another hypothesis suggests that leisure becomes more important to quality of life as people age, as leisure becomes a means for keeping healthy, maintaining cognitive abilities, and preserving one’s youth, thus helping older adults cope with and resist the risks posed by the aging process.
In an attempt to assess the abovementioned contradictory hypotheses, my colleague, Prof. Galit Nimrod from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and I used longitudinal data from the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). We analyzed data from close to 8,000 interviews with retired persons aged 60 years and older from 19 countries across Europe. These interviewees reported their leisure activities (e.g., doing voluntary or charity work, attending an educational or training course) and completed the frequently used measure of quality of life – CASP-12.
We found that the advantage in CASP-12 scores that highly active persons (i.e., those who participated more in leisure activities) had over non-active persons (i.e., those who participated less in leisure activities) had increased as both groups aged. In other words, leisure is not only valuable to seniors’ quality of life, but also becomes increasingly more beneficial across the later life course. Interestingly, leisure remained linked with CASP-12 even after accounting for the effects of demographics and physical and cognitive health on CASP-12. This implies that even if people become less activity-oriented with age due to various physical and personal circumstances, they can still preserve their quality of life to some extent by maintaining involvement in leisure.
Our study points to the leisure paradox in old age; that is, older adults, who may benefit from leisure involvement more than their younger peers, are precisely those who face more constraints to beneficial use of leisure. Therefore, society should explore ways to help seniors apply strategies that help them preserve a high level of leisure involvement and quality of life in spite of challenging circumstances (e.g., help them adjust leisure aspirations, improve time arrangement and encourage skill development).
Nimrod, G., & Shrira, A. (2016). The paradox of leisure in later life. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 71, 106-111. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbu143
Posted by Prof. Amit Shrira, Bar-Ilan University, Israel