OSU research reveals impact of leisure activities on mental health during pandemic | Local News

As people turn to hobbies like reading and outdoor recreation to fill their days during the COVID-19 pandemic, recent research from Oregon State University found that engaging in activities recreation can help reduce the risk of depression and improve mental well-being.

“Recreation is so crucial to our mental health. Despite all the disruptions to daily life, physical distancing, movement restrictions and closures of indoor recreation facilities, we have seen that people continue to use recreation to help them cope with stress and as way to navigate life during COVID-19,” Xiangyou Shen said. , the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at OSU’s College of Forestry.

For the study, researchers surveyed 503 participants from February 3 to 15, 2021, a time when vaccines were slowly rolling out in the United States and before delta and omicron variants came into full force. They measured participants’ stress, depressive symptoms, general health and well-being, and asked participants to list their favorite leisure activity and how often they could engage in it.

They also asked participants how their engagement in this activity has changed since COVID, and how their current level of engagement compares to their ideal level.

The study sample was representative of the general US population in terms of gender, age, race, and vaccination status.

The researchers grouped respondents’ activities into 19 categories under three broad areas. Offline home activities were the most popular, with 43.4% citing a favorite in this area; then digital/online activities on screen, with 32.1%; and finally physical or outdoor activities, with 24.5%.

The study found an overall increase in home activities such as reading, writing, and computer or video games, but a decrease in most physical and outdoor activities, with the exception of walking and hiking. gardening.

On the mental health side, 24% of respondents reported major depressive symptoms, 13% reported severe or extremely severe stress, and 7% reported poor mental well-being.

Results showed that changes in the level of engagement compared to pre-COVID engagement, as well as the gap between respondents’ current engagement in this activity and their ideal engagement, were significantly associated with mental health. , more than the frequency of their activities.

The results suggest that people lean more into their favorite leisure activity in response to stress.

“We find that people who reported a higher level of stress also reported increased engagement in their leisure activity. But if they were able to increase their engagement or maintain it, they did not report more depressive symptoms. Shen said. “It’s okay if you experience higher stress, if you also maintain or adapt what you do in your spare time as a protective buffer. Failing to maintain or make adaptive changes, you are at higher risk of depression.

The key takeaway here is that recreation matters, said Megan MacDonald, co-author and associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“It’s a reminder to all of us that it’s really important to take time for yourself and make sure you participate in these activities and don’t blame yourself for taking that time,” he said. she declared. “We also need rest and relaxation, but hobbies and play can be more engaging and redirected in a different way, helping us get away from some of that other stress.”

But the results also show that leisure is not equally accessible to everyone. For example, parents reported significantly lower leisure participation than non-parents. And this study found a much lower rate of engagement in outdoor activities than previous COVID recreation studies, raising questions about the accessibility of outdoor recreation in different parts of the country and at different times of the year.

“This pandemic exposes some of the social issues we already have and the disparities in the time people have to take care of themselves,” Shen said. “Parents, especially women, as carers who don’t have enough childcare support and also work full time – these people are among the most vulnerable.”

Funding for the study came from OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families.

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