Culture and Health

How leisure activities affect health

A narrative review and multi-level theoretical framework of mechanisms of action

There is a growing body of evidence on the health benefits of engaging in leisure activities (voluntary, enjoyable non-work activities such as hobbies, arts, volunteering, belonging to community groups, sports and socialising). However, there is no unifying framework explaining how leisure activities influence health: what are the mechanisms of action through which engagement with leisure activities leads to the prevention, management or treatment of mental and physical illness. In this review, more than 600 mechanisms of action have been identified and mapped: they can be classified as psychological, biological, social and behavioural processes operating at the individual (micro), group (meso) and societal (macro) levels and are summarised in a new theoretical framework, the Multi-level Leisure Mechanisms Framework. This framework situates the understanding of leisure activities within the theoretical lens of complex adaptive systems and aims to support the design of more theoretical and interdisciplinary studies.