Keeping socially active and engaging in leisure activity is very important at every stage of life, and even more so in old age, with some researchers claiming leisure to be the single most important element of “successful ageing”.
The benefits of physical activity, both strenuous and moderate, have been proven to diminish the risk and be an effective treatment for a series of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis, and scientists have also looked at how engaging in social activity, for example volunteering, is linked with lower mortality rates and better overall self-health report, but research seems to indicate that a mix of the two might even bring stronger positive effects, although the amount of activity required is still not quite clear.
This is indeed true also for cognitive decline, with researchers being able to observe multiple times lower rates of cognitive decline in healthy individuals that engage in stimulating activities.
Older people that engage in stimulating leisure activities show also higher levels of different features of social well-being, such as:
- Social Integration: feeling that one has something in common with others and the feeling of belonging to one’s community and society.
- Social acceptance: the capacity for trusting others, believing others are capable of kindness and industriousness, having a favourable view of human nature, and feeling comfortable with others.
- Social contribution: a strong sense of social value, believing that one is a vital member of society and contributes in valuable ways to the world.
- Social actualization: an understanding that society is continually evolving, being hopeful about the condition and future of society, and recognizing society’s potential.
- Social coherence: having a concern about the world and a strong desire to make sense of the world.
Clearly engaging in leisure activities is beneficial for one’s brain when growing old. The problem is that there are leisure inequities and difference in access to leisure activities for different people. We know a great deal about leisure activities of middle-age, white males, living in community based environments, since most of the studies on leisure activities in later age have focused on that demographic. This means we know very little about leisure activities for the more marginalised groups.
A group of people that have very little access to leisure activities is perhaps the one needing it the most. Research shows that individuals living in long-term facilities engage extremely rarely in leisure activities and are confined in those institutes in a way that takes away from them the community support a need for interaction they had outside of the institute. Researcher however also shows that inside those institutes people living with severe dementia are the ones engaging the least in leisure activities, while they very well be the ones needing it the most. On the other hand, those engaging in leisure activities within the institutes are the ones showing higher levels of well-being, as measures using dementia care mapping.
When older people do not have adequate access to meaningful activities their ability to age well is compromised.
Dupuis, S. L, Alzheimer, M. (2011), Leisure and Ageing Well, in “World Leisure Journal”, 50(2), pp. 91-107.