Participation in leisure activities has been associated with a number of positive cognitive, physical, and emotional outcomes as we age. However, we are still learning about the trajectories of participation in different types of leisure activities over time. A recent study looked at these trajectories, with a particular focus on gender differences. This study looked at how patterns of participation in physical, social, and cognitive/sedentary activities changed for men and women over 17 years. At the start of the study, participants ranged from 36 to 91 years old, with an average age of 65.
This research showed that prior to age 70, men and women participated roughly equally in social leisure activities, but that while women’s participation remained relatively stable after 70, men’s participation began to drop off at that point. The authors suggest that this may be due to men’s smaller social networks. They note that in this age range, wives are often responsible for much social planning, so this drop-off could also reflect the impact of widowhood.
As for cognitive leisure activities, from ages 50 to 90, women consistently engaged in more of this type of activity, with both genders gradually increasing these activities from 50 to 70 and decreasing in this type of activity at around 70.
Physical activity differences between the genders was less pronounced, but some differences were still observed. At age 50 women were doing more physical activity than men, but between 50 and 65, men’s physical leisure activity increased to the level of women’s, which held steady. After 65, both genders’ amount of physical leisure activity decreased, but women’s physical activity decreased faster than men’s.
In light of the many health benefits associated with leisure activities, this data could be useful in helping to highlight where and when intervention efforts can be made to encourage greater leisure activity participation. This could take the form of promoting alternative leisure activities to replace those that have been discontinued, or to encourage ongoing participation in leisure activities later in life.
Finkel D, Andel R, and Pedersen NL. Gender differences in longitudinal trajectories of change in physical, social, and cognitive/sedentary leisure activities. Journal of Gerontology B Series. (2016). DOI:10.1093/geronb/gbw116