Sunday, January 15, 2006


Over 2,000 years ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle celebrated the importance of leisure in human life with the statement, "We are busy that we may have leisure." Modern leisure researchers Gene and Lei Burrus-Bammel, writing in the Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, have observed that, "In leisure occur the most important events of one's life: insights, personal relationships, choice of careers, and delights in ourselves, our friends, and the natural world." Gerontologist Russell Ward notes that leisure is essential to old people as they go about defining new goals and directing their energies into new channels.
Because people live longer than they did in the past the old have more time for leisure than ever before-in previous times most people died by age 50, and they never stopped working until death put them to permanent rest. Modern researchers say that everyone, including the old, need to take leisure seriously to get the most out of it. Leisure can include idle whiling away of time, but at its best it reaches beyond idleness by becoming an activity in itself, a career of later life.
The notion that leisure and idleness are the same thing may reflect on the element of freedom in leisure activities--one engages in leisure activities out of one's own choice and free will. Work, by comparison, is something that one must do, like it or not; and one often works under unwanted direction and supervision. In leisure, one is not told what to do, or how to do things; one is free and accountable only to one's self. There is no paycheck issued for most leisure activities. The only pay-off from leisure activities is one's own pleasure and satisfaction--one performs leisure activities simply because one likes them. They have a therapeutic value and help to recreate one's energies.
Contrary to what many people think, most older people use their leisure time in constructive ways, not just to sit and watch TV all day. National surveys have shown that most older people spend about as much time watching TV as everyone else, and they usually watch fewer hours than children, teenagers, and even young adults. About 60 percent of all Americans (including the old) spend two to four hours a day in front of TV, according to the General Social Survey, an annual poll of the American people carried out by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
When people reach later life they commonly use their leisure time to build on activities and hobbies, like fishing, reading, gardening, crafts, knitting or meeting and chatting with friends-activities that they have enjoyed for many years. Some take adult education courses to learn new information or to develop new activities, while others invest more time in doing things they have never had enough time to do before -- odd jobs, painting and repairing their homes, shopping for bargains, and so forth.
A Harris poll has shown that 25 percent of the older population also engages in volunteer services, spending anywhere from a few hours per week to almost full-time work. The same survey recorded a long list of volunteer activities that includes time donated to hospitals and mental health clinics, transportation of the handicapped, political activity, psychological support of shut-in people through telephone call networks, foster grandparent and day care for children and youth, staffing of thrift shops, supplying home delivered meals-to name only a few.
When it comes to exercise, experts agree that older people are like other Americans - they need to abandon their sedentary lifestyles and take part in more exercise activities. In age there is time for an hour or two of pleasant leisure recreation daily; it appears that physical activity is not only essential in age but that it may be one of the keys to good health and long life.
Still, experts on exercise physiology warn against sudden leaps into strenuous and vigorous aerobic fitness programs that may be suitable for early life but that can cause injury to anyone who has not maintained a high energy level over the years. Lowered lung capacity, weaker heart action, narrow and less responsive arteries and veins, less flexibility in muscles and tendons-all these and other physical changes typical of age recommend moderate exercise programs that emphasize low-impact activities like walking, swimming, gentle stretching and bending, and smooth, rhythmic movements. Consulting with a physician about exercise from time to time makes good sense in late life.
Deedy, J. Your Aging Parents. Chicago: The Thomas More Press, 1984.
Fromme, A. Life After Work. Glenview, Ill.: AARP,1984.
Gillies, J. A Guide to Caring for Coping with Aging Parents. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 198 I.
Russell, C. H. Good News About Aging. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1989.


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