Journal of Geriatric Mental Health

: 2022  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 4--8

Role of leisure activity in quality of life and meaning in life of male and female older adults

Pooja Mukherjee, Ankita Ghosh, Subrata Dasgupta 
 Department of Applied Psychology, University of Calcutta, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Ankita Ghosh
Department of Applied Psychology, University of Calcutta, Kolkata, West Bengal


Context: India at present is experiencing a phenomenal increase in the number of older adults. Old age is marked by challenges across multiple domains of life. To overcome the challenges of old age, the focus should be on improving the quality of life (QOL) and meaning in life (MIL) of older adults. Aim: This study aimed to determine the effect of leisure activity on QOL and MIL of male and female older adults in old-age homes. Methodology: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 120 male and female retired older adults (65–80 years), living in old-age homes of Hooghly district, West Bengal, using the Older People's Quality of Life Questionnaire (OPQOL-35) by Bowling and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ) by Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler. Results: Older adults who engaged in active leisure activities had higher QOL and MIL than those engaged in passive leisure activities. Male older adults had higher QOL and MIL than female older adults. Conclusion: Opportunities to pursue active leisure activities should be promoted among older adults in old-age homes.

How to cite this article:
Mukherjee P, Ghosh A, Dasgupta S. Role of leisure activity in quality of life and meaning in life of male and female older adults.J Geriatr Ment Health 2022;9:4-8

How to cite this URL:
Mukherjee P, Ghosh A, Dasgupta S. Role of leisure activity in quality of life and meaning in life of male and female older adults. J Geriatr Ment Health [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 16 ];9:4-8
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Full Text


Population aging has become faster than before.[1] Most countries, including India, are experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of older adults. According to the population census of 2021, there are around 138 million elderly people in India as of 2021, which are expected to increase to 194 million by 2031.[2] The growth in the elderly population is largely due to improved health-care facilities and reduced mortality rates.

Old age is most commonly defined by chronological age. The most widely accepted definition of old age considers the chronological age of 65 years as indicative of old age. According to the American Psychological Association, an older adult is one, who is retired or has reached the age of retirement, generally 65 years or above.[3] Aging is associated with several complex changes, including physical, mental, and social changes.[4] Physical changes include changes at the biological level such as molecular and cellular damage,[5] increased susceptibility to illnesses, depletion of physiological reserves, and an overall decline in the capacity and functioning of the individual. Besides physical changes, old age is also associated with considerable changes in other aspects of life such as diminished social networks, loss of previous roles, retirement, and bereavement.

Indian society had a rich legacy of intergenerational co-residence characterized by a “joint” (samyukta kutumb) or “undivided” (avibhakta kutumb) family system.[6],[7] This family system was based on the “ancient belief of Dharma” where elderly parents were respected by all by virtue of their age and wisdom.[8] The traditional household structure provided care, companionship, and support to the elderly. However, in the recent past, a rapid transition has been noticWed. The nuclear family system has become more prevalent and preferred compared to the joint family system.[9] As a result, the elderly are now compelled to either live alone or leave home and move to old-age homes.[10],[11]

Age-related changes are overwhelmingly stressful. To counter the detrimental effects of aging, WHO emphasizes on “active aging.” It is defined as the “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance the quality of life (QOL) as people age.”[12] As people age, their QOL diminishes and they lose meaning in life (MIL). To achieve active and healthy aging, focus should be on improving the various dimensions of psychological well-being. QOL and MIL are two important determinants of psychological well-being.[13] QOL is defined as “individuals” perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards, and concerns.”[14] MIL is defined as “the sense made of, and significance felt regarding, the nature of one's being and existence.”[15] Seeking a life of meaning and enrichment is a basic human goal that contributes to happiness and well-being.[16],[17],[18]

Usually, retirement results in more free time than before. Hence, retired older adults who stay in old-age homes are expected to have plenty of free time. Activities of elderly people during their leisure time represent an important aspect of active aging.[19] Leisure activities are “voluntary nonwork activities that are engaged in for enjoyment.”[20] They are self-selected and intrinsically motivated. Leisure is a discretionary time or time when a person is free to do as he chooses.[21] It is an unobligated time that is free from work and other life-sustaining functions.[22] Several studies have found that leisure activity is associated with successful aging of older adults which includes improved physical and psychological health.[23],[24]

Prior work has suggested that not all leisure activity is equally beneficial. Engagement in certain leisure activities is more beneficial than others. The classification of leisure activities is not consistent across the literature.[25] The most frequently studied classification is active leisure and passive leisure.[26] Active leisure refers to activities that require some amount of physical exertion such as running, walking, swimming, and cycling.[26],[27],[28] By contrast, passive leisure involves activities that are “restful, restorative or recuperative in nature.”[26],[27],[28] They are not physically exertive. They include watching television or movies, listening to music, and reading books or newspapers.

In India, leisure activities in old age have received less attention. Leisure in old age is not taken seriously and not considered as something of value for older people. Studying older people singing and dancing is considered unimportant as it does not fit the stereotypical perception of aging as a problematic issue.[29] To address this dearth of research, the present study examines the role of leisure activity in QOL and MIL of older adults. While doing so, the study takes into account two critical challenges of aging-retirement and the transformation in living arrangements from traditional family structures to old-age homes.


To determine the role of active and passive leisure activity in QOL and MIL of male and female older adults in old-age homesTo determine gender differences in QOL and MIL.


A cross-sectional study was conducted among 120 retired older adults (60 male and 60 female) between 65 and 80 years. The sample was selected through the multistage sampling technique. The study was conducted in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. A list of all old-age homes having at least fifty inmates of both genders was prepared. From the list, ten old-age homes were selected randomly. Out of ten, eight homes permitted data collection. Out of these eight homes, five homes were selected randomly by the researcher. Four lists were prepared for males participating in active leisure (Group 1), males participating in passive leisure (Group 2), females participating in active leisure (Group 3), and females participating in passive leisure (Group 4). Forty participants were selected randomly from each list. After data collection, participants who did not meet the selection criteria were excluded. The final sample consisted of thirty participants in each group. According to the selection criteria, the participants were widows or widowers; had at least one child; were free from any life-threatening diseases; had no history of psychiatric illness; retired, and earned a monthly pension of Rs. 15,000–40,000; and residents of old-age home for at least 1 year. The study was approved by the institutional ethics committee.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analysis was carried out through Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, Version 20 (SPSS 20) IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., USA. Mean, standard deviation, and two-way ANOVA were computed to analyze data.


Information schedule

This was used to collect personal, familial, and leisure activity-related information. Exercise, walking, yoga, cooking, knitting, social work, handicrafts, playing musical instruments, photography, and gardening were classified as active leisure activities because they involved physical movement or exertion. Watching television, listening to music, reading, mobile, or computer use were classified as passive leisure activities because they involved no physical exertion.[30] The participants were asked to select the activity that they were engaged in most of the time during the past 1 month.

Older People's Quality-of-Life Questionnaire

This questionnaire by Bowling[31] is used to assess the QOL of elderly persons. It has 35 items and deals with 8 domains: life overall (4 items), health (4 items), social relationships and participation (8 items), independence, control over life and freedom (5 items), home and neighborhood (4 items), psychological and emotional well-being (4 items), financial circumstances (4 items), and culture and religion (2 items). Participants are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree with each statement by selecting one of five possible options (“strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “neither agree nor disagree,” “agree,” and “strongly agree.”) The range in the original version is based on the principle of point allocation (1–5). Thus, the higher the score, the better the QOL. Cronbach's alpha ranges from 0.70 to 0.90.

Meaning in Life Questionnaire

This was developed by Steger, Frazier, Oishi, and Kaler.[15] It measures two dimensions of MIL: (1) presence of meaning (how much respondents feel their lives have meaning) and (2) search for meaning (how much respondents strive to find meaning and understanding in their lives). It consists of 10 items. Respondents answer each item on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (absolutely true) to 7 (absolutely untrue). Items 1, 4, 5, 6, and 9 make up the Presence of Meaning subscale; Items 2, 3, 7, 8, and 10 make up the Search for Meaning subscale. Item 9 is a reverse scored. A high score indicates a higher level of MIL. Internal consistency reliability is 0.80 for the presence subscale and 0.90 for the search subscale.


Male older adults had higher QOL and higher MIL than female older adults [Table 1]. There was a significant effect of leisure activity and gender on QOL and MIL [Table 2] and [Table 3]. But there was no significant interaction effect of leisure activity and gender on QOL and MIL of male and female older adults [Table 2] and [Table 3]. Those who were engaged in active leisure activities had higher QOL and higher MIL than those engaged in passive leisure activities.{Table 1}{Table 2}{Table 3}


In the present study, engagement in active leisure was related to better QOL and higher MIL than passive leisure. The findings are in accord with previous findings. In previous studies, active leisure was found to be associated with higher well-being[32],[33] and passive leisure with lower well-being.[32],[34],[35] Active leisure activities have positive impacts on both physical and mental health.[36] They are high investment activities that are deeply engaging. They result in an increased level of flow experiences characterized by complete absorption, spontaneous immersion, profound joy, and ecstasy.[37],[38] It is possible that all of these experiences produced by active leisure activities lead to enhanced QOL and MIL among older adults.

The role of leisure in achieving better well-being at an advanced age was first defined in the Activity Theory, which argued that to preserve psychological well-being at old age, it is important to maintain a high level of involvement in activities.[39] The Activity Theory stated that “successful aging means the maintenance, as far and as long as possible, of activities and attitudes of middle age” and that people should find substitutes for the activities which they had to give up, for example, work after retirement.[40] Active leisure activities such as creating art or music, doing some form of outdoor activity that connects one with nature, and volunteering contribute to one's sense of personal meaning and hence well-being. Leisure is a context for self-determined and autonomous behavior, which according to self-determination theory,[41] promotes intrinsic motivation and a sense of purpose. For elderly people who experience uncontrollable life events, an opportunity to experience some level of control and choice through leisure is important.

Leisure activities help older adults enrich their lives and add meaning to their lives.[37] Increased meaning-making contributes to successful aging by helping older adults overcome the challenges of aging such as coping with chronic health conditions,[37] and negative life events (e.g., death of spouse).[42] The advantage of active leisure over passive leisure was supported by a study on female athletes.[43] The activity of running facilitated meaning-making by elevating a sense of accomplishment, autonomy, and control and by generating health and social benefits. In a study among mental health patients, leisure participation was found to contribute to meaning-making, by making life more joyful, composed, connected, discovered (leisure promoted self-identity and self-discovery), empowered, and hopeful.[44]

The second finding of the study was elderly males had better QOL and higher MIL than elderly females. QOL and MIL depend on several factors, such as health, social relationships, leisure, independence and freedom, home and neighborhood, psychological well-being, financial status, and religion. Elderly females have 1.3 times higher risk of hypertension and diabetes and 3.2 times higher risk of depression than elderly males. They exhibit increased morbidity and pain frequency.[45] It is possible that poor physical and mental health contributes to relatively lower QOL and MIL among elderly females than males.

It has been found that women value relationships more than men, and social participation is more important to women than to men.[46] Maintaining contact with family, friends, and neighbors or participating in social gatherings such as religious ceremonies is not possible for women living in old-age homes. The immediate environment of the older adults such as the design of the house and access to local areas markedly influences their QOL.[47] Living away from home reduces autonomy, social contact with loved ones, and sense of security.[48] As a result, elderly females living in old-age homes perhaps have lower QOL than their male counterparts.

Women in our society play the role of caregivers. They are socialized to be caring and nurturing toward others. They consider receiving help as a loss of privacy and independence.[49] At old-age home, their role is shifted from that of a “giver” to a “receiver.” As a result, they experience a loss of meaning or purpose in life more so than men. Another possibility may be the inability of elderly females to utilize their free time with leisure activities. In our society, the role of women is not to engage in free-time pursuits to the same degree as men. Activity for women is more imposed, and they are involved in the instrumental tasks of maintaining the house. Old age is ushered with limitless free time. The inability to utilize this free time with leisure activity perhaps lowers their QOL, and the benefit that leisure produces by facilitating the process of meaning-making is not gained.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is prosperity and well-being of all so that no one is left behind. The result of the present study is a valuable contribution toward this goal. It identified the role of active leisure in improving QOL and MIL of older adults in old-age homes. The study, however, has some limitations. The study is cross-sectional in nature, had a small sample size, based solely on self-report measures, and studied older adults in old-age homes only which narrow the generalizability of the study.


It was found that QOL and MIL vary with gender and type of leisure activity. Elderly females in old-age homes are more at risk of experiencing lower QOL and MIL. Interventions aimed at improving QOL and MIL of older adults should be gender sensitive. Leisure time is valuable. Hence, active activities should be encouraged more than passive ones. Conditions that facilitate the pursuit of active leisure should be promoted among older adults in old-age homes. They should be made aware of the benefits of active leisure activities over passive activities.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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