The Role of Recreation in American Society
THE ROLE OF RECREATION IN AMERICAN SOCIETY
A CHANGING ROLE
The expectations of free time have shifted and expanded over time. Eric Miller, in At Our Leisure (New York: EPM Communications, Inc., 1997), depicted recreation and leisure in the United States in the 1950s as an expression of comfort; it rounded out lives and reaffirmed the importance of home and family. During the 1960s it acquired an identity of its own apart from "traditional values." In the 1970s free time became an expression of an individual's identity; it pushed work into secondary importance. During the 1980s many Americans began to work at having fun—they were intent on working hard and "playing hard."
Americans of the 1980s spent wildly on material necessities, pleasures, and extravagances. Shopping was elevated to a form of recreation; American leisure included unabashed consumerism. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Americans started to demand even more of their free time—recreation had to provide personal satisfaction. Aging baby boomers, poised to become the largest group of older Americans in the country's history, exerted tremendous influence over societal views and values about work, life, and leisure. As the members of this generation began to recognize a limit to the length of life, they turned their attention to improving the quality of life.
American culture's structuring of leisure changed significantly in the mid twentieth century. The five-day workweek was institutionalized as a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal (1938), and Americans settled into "nine-to-five" workdays (or slight variations) after World War II. When free time became a national institution, no corresponding leisure industry existed. Since then, leisure has developed into a huge industry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor in its survey Consumer Expenditures in 2002, about 5.1% of Americans' annual expenditures were on entertainment, just slightly less than the 5.8% they spent on health care.
WHAT AMERICANS SEEK THROUGH RECREATION
The nature of modern work has a significant impact on the types of activities people pursue in their free time. For instance, workers whose jobs keep them in front of a computer monitor for many hours a day often seek physical activities to offset the many hours they are required to sit. Conversely, people whose jobs require many hours on their feet welcome an opportunity to relax at the end of the day. The types of activities Americans pursue in their leisure time are as various as the people themselves, and for some who derive little satisfaction from their work, recreational activities can provide an important opportunity for personal fulfillment. Stress-relief, physical well-being, artistic satisfaction, deepening spirituality, and intellectual development can all be motivating factors in Americans'recreational choices.
Many of Americans' favorite forms of recreation are popular for three reasons: They are convenient, possible to do alone or with others, and able to be performed for pleasure rather than for competition. For example, walking for exercise is popular because it can be performed almost anywhere, at any time, and alone or with others.
Americans Want More Time
The perception of Americans as hardworking, stressed, and lacking leisure time is often supported by the observation that they routinely work more hours per day and more days per year than residents of other countries. According to Key Indicators of the Labor Market (Geneva: U.N. International Labor Organization, 2003), U.S. workers put in an average of 1,815 hours at their jobs in 2002. While this was less than the 2,447 hours workers in South Korea averaged, or the 1,848 hours of the Japanese, it was more than in many other countries, including Canada (1,778 hours), Sweden (1,625 hours), and Germany (1,444 hours).
While Americans rely on the generosity of their employers, or their union's bargaining skills, to receive paid vacation time, in many other countries vacation time is
|Public opinion on amount of time available for recreational activities, December 2003|
|Amount of time available for each activity|
|Right amount||Too little||Too much|
|source: Lydia Saad, "Have Enough Time to Do What You Want These Days?" in No Time for R&R, http://www.gallup.com/content/default.aspx?ci=11656&pg=1 (accessed September 12, 2004). Copyright © 2004 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.|
|Relaxing or doing nothing||45%||44%||11%|
|Personal exercise and recreation||37%||59%||3%|
mandated by law. In such European countries as Sweden, Austria, Denmark, France, and Spain, workers in 2002 were guaranteed twenty-five days of paid vacation per year, while those in Germany and Finland received twenty-four, and those in Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Greece, and the United Kingdom got twenty. Communist China gave all workers fifteen vacation days per year, and Japan ten, but the United States had no national law requiring that workers be given a paid vacation from work.
While the time off that workers were guaranteed in these countries might seem generous to Americans, the actual amount they took was even more, averaging five or more additional days, according to information compiled by Catherine Valenti in the ABCNEWS.com report "Vacation Deprivation—Americans Get Short-Changed When It Comes to Holiday Time" (June 25, 2003). By contrast, Americans took an average of 10.2 days per year of vacation.
This lack of time off from work may be one reason why a December 2003 Gallup poll found that 44% of Americans felt they had too little time to relax or do nothing, while 51% said they had too little time to pursue hobbies, 54% had too little time to read, and 59% had too little time for personal exercise and recreation. (See Table 8.1.) Forty years earlier, a similar Gallup poll had found that 74% of Americans reported they had enough leisure time.
The 2003 Gallup poll also found that the amount of time Americans had for leisure varied according to age. For those eighteen to twenty-nine, 40% said they had enough time to do whatever they wanted, while 60% said they did not. The data for those between thirty and forty-nine was almost identical, but older Americans had more free time—from age fifty to sixty-four, 59% said they had enough time to do what they wanted, and 84% of those over sixty-five reported having enough time to do what they wanted. (See Figure 8.1.)
How Leisure Time Is Spent
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (2004) looked at
how American adults spent their leisure time. The most popular leisure activity in 2002 was going to movies, which 60% of respondents said they had done at least once. Exercise came in second, at 55.1%, followed by gardening (47.3%), doing home improvements (42.4%), and visiting amusement parks (41.7%). Thirty-nine percent of Americans also partook of at least one "Benchmark Arts Activity," which consisted of attending jazz, classical music, or opera performances; musical plays; plays; ballet; or art museums. (See Table 8.2.)
The NEA survey uncovered several trends in leisure activities when the 2002 results were compared with those of earlier years. From 1982 to 2002, while participation in movie and television viewing held relatively steady, the number of Americans who enjoyed outdoor activities declined dramatically. Participation in gardening by American adults dropped from 60% in 1982 to 47.3% in 2002, while the number playing active sports fell from 39% to 30.4%, although the amount doing exercise increased from 51% to 55.1%. Attendance at sporting events once or more during the year fell from 48% to 35%, while the number making improvements to their homes in their leisure time dropped from 60% to 42.4%. (See Table 8.2.)
Participation in each activity varied by gender, age, ethnicity, income, and educational status. For example, participation in gardening was much more common among women (62.4% of all gardeners) than men (37.6%), while more men played sports (61%) than women (39%). Whites tended to participate in more outdoor activities than African-Americans or Hispanics, while visiting
|Participation in leisure activities other than the arts, 1982, 1992, 2002|
|Percent of adults participating|
|Type of activity||1982||1992||2002|
|*Benchmark arts events include going to at least one jazz, classical music, or opera performance; musical play; play; ballet; or art museum|
|source: "Table 26. Participation in Other Leisure Activities, 1982, 1992, 2002," in 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, 2004, http://www.arts.gov/pub/NEASurvey2004.pdf (accessed September 9, 2004)|
|Benchmark arts events*||39.0||41.0||39.0|
|TV hours per day||3.0||3.0||2.9|
amusement parks was almost equally popular among all ethnic groups. Younger adults had more interest in playing and watching sports; attending arts events, performing charity work, and gardening had more older participants. Those with a college education or a higher income level tended to participate in all types of leisure activities more than people with less education or income. (See Table 8.3.)
The Value of the Performing Arts
Public support for the arts and appreciation of their importance was confirmed by the results of a three-year public opinion survey conducted by the Performing Arts Research Coalition, The Value of the Performing Arts in Ten Communities (2004). The survey was designed to assess participation rates, characteristics of attendees, the perceived value of the performing arts to individuals and their communities, and barriers to attendance. It was conducted in Alaska; Austin, Texas; Boston; Cincinnati; Denver; Minneapolis–St. Paul; Pittsburgh; Sarasota, Florida; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. The survey found that three-quarters of the respondents in each community agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Attending live performing arts is enjoyable to me." More than 90% agreed or strongly agreed that the performing arts contributed to the education and development of children, while over 80% agreed or strongly agreed that the performing arts improved the quality of life in their community. More than two-thirds of respondents in each community surveyed also agreed or strongly agreed that performing arts helped them understand other cultures better.
Recreation as Socialization
Many forms of recreation are popular because they offer opportunities to socialize and interact with others. Many young people enjoy sports as an inexpensive dating practice, believing they can get to know another person better while spending time skating or bicycling together. Billiards in modern, upscale parlors has become a "hip" couples' activity, and bowling has regained popularity. Gyms, health clubs, and sporting activities have been touted as great ways to simultaneously improve health and fitness, engage in recreation, and meet people.
There is mounting evidence that socialization and recreation hold important health benefits. Family, friends, active interests, and community involvement may do more than simply help people enjoy their lives. Social activities and relationships may actually enable people to live longer by preventing or delaying development of many diseases, including dementia (impaired mental function). Furthermore, social activities seem to protect against disease and increase longevity even when the activities do not involve physical exercise. In "Social Engagement and Disability in a Community Population of Older Adults" (American Journal of Epidemiology, April 1, 2003), C. F. Mendes de Leon and colleagues tracked the health and longevity of 2,812 older adults living in New Haven, Connecticut. After nine years, the researchers reported that "higher levels of social engagement are associated with reduced disability and that this effect was consistent across three different measures of disability as well as across gender and racial subgroups."
TRENDS IN THE LEISURE MARKET
The Influence of the Baby Boom Generation
According to Jeffrey Ziegler in the article "Recreating Retirement: How Will Baby Boomers Reshape Leisure in Their 60s" (Parks & Recreation, October 2002), the leisure interests of "baby boomers" (those born between 1946 and 1964, when the U.S. birth rate peaked) were different from those of the generations that preceded them. Writing about how baby boomers would fare as they began to reach retirement age, he observed that:
- Boomers tended to be better educated than preceding generations, and worked and played hard.
- Boomers viewed themselves as younger than their chronological age.
- Boomers purchased more upscale goods and services than other age groups.
- Boomers tended to overschedule themselves, seeking to pack activity into every hour of the day.
- Boomers were less likely to volunteer their time than other age groups.
- Boomers wanted to separate themselves from things that made them feel old.
|Demographic distribution of adults participating in leisure activities other than the arts at least once in the 12-month period ending August 2002|
|U.S. adult population||Home improvement/repair||Benchmark arts activities1|
|Millions||Percent||Movies||Sports events||Amusement park||Exercise program||Playing sports||Outdoor activities||Charity work||Gardening|
|1Benchmark arts activities include going to at least one jazz, classical music, or opera performance; musical play; play; ballet; or art museum|
|2Not including Hispanics.|
|Note: Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding|
|source: Adapted from "Table 8. Demographic Distribution of U.S. Adults Who Attend/Visit/Read at Least Once in the 12-Month Period Ending August, 2002" and "Table 27. Demographic Distribution of Adults Participating in Other Leisure Activities at Least Once in the 12-Month Period Ending August, 2002," in 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, 2004, http://www.arts.gov/pub/NEASurvey2004.pdf (accessed September 9, 2004)|
|Race and ethnicity|
|75 and over||1 5.5||7.5||2.4||2.4||1.7||4.3||1.5||1.4||5.5||3.9||7.6||4.4|
|Some high school||20.1||9.8||6.4||4.9||7.2||5.8||5.5||4.9||4.2||5.7||6.4||3.4|
|High school graduate||63.8||31.0||26.7||25.0||28.2||25.7||23.1||25.0||21.6||26.0||28.7||19.5|
|Graduate school||1 7.4||8.5||10.9||11.6||8.9||11.9||12.1||12.4||15.5||12.3||11.3||16.2|
|Less than $10K||14.4||7.0||4.9||3.6||5.5||5.1||3.7||3.7||4.3||3.5||5.2||4.1|
|$10K to $20K||22.7||11.0||8.5||6.9||8.8||9.2||7.3||6.8||7.8||6.7||10.0||6.8|
|$20K to $30K||25.0||12.1||10.7||8.8||11.0||10.9||9.3||9.1||9.5||8.9||11.6||8.7|
|$30K to $40K||24.2||11.8||12.3||10.9||12.0||12.4||11.1||12.3||12.0||12.6||12.7||11.5|
|$40K to $50K||17.6||8.5||9.9||9.3||9.5||9.4||9.0||10.2||9.4||10.2||9.8||9.4|
|$50K to $75K||34.7||16.9||21.4||23.6||22.1||21.1||21.7||22.7||22.4||23.2||21.4||21.3|
|$75K and over||45.8||22.2||32.2||36.9||31.1||31.9||37.9||35.2||34.5||34.9||29.1||38.2|
- Boomers tended to prefer more individualized activities than group events, and preferred to socialize in small circles.
- Boomers viewed retirement as only a "mid-life" event, and planned to work part-time, change careers, or start new businesses.
Given these characteristics, as well as other societal trends, Ziegler noted that retirement centers for members of this generation would have to include high-end fitness centers, opportunities for adult education, and up-to-date computer facilities, and offer such amenities for extended hours.
Productivity vs. Fun
A May 2003 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the Hilton Family of Hotels, the Hilton Family Leisure Time Advocacy Study (LTA), found that 32% of those polled postponed fun because they felt guilty when not doing something they believed was productive. At the same time, more than two-thirds said they needed to have more fun in their lives. Seventy-four percent said they thought Americans placed a higher value on success in the workplace than success at home, and 34% said they felt these priorities were wrong. Americans were unsure about whether the national ethic of hard work and long hours was good or bad—a third said it had a positive effect on the culture, while 31% said it had a negative one.
As for the rejuvenating effect of leisure time, the LTA study reported that just 23% of Americans said they felt energized and ready for the workweek at the end of a weekend, while the remaining 77% were in a negative state—tired, stressed, apprehensive, or simply on "autopilot." When asked what they would do if they could "do it all over again," 15% said they would work harder in life, while 40% said they would spend more time enjoying leisure activities.
While the LTA did find that nine out of ten Americans reported being happy, and 53% said they were "very" or "extremely" happy, 46% also said that their lives were more stressful than five years earlier. Ultimately, most Americans said they wished they had one more day of leisure time per week. The number one choice for spending it was to be with friends and family, followed by pursuing hobbies.
vacationing. The LTA also found that while 69% of Americans said they felt as though they needed a vacation "right now," more than half (55%) said they did not take all the vacation days they were entitled to at work each year. The main reasons cited for not vacationing were guilt, time, and money.
When Americans did find time to get away, they found a range of options available. A survey conducted in 2001 by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and published in Cruise Industry Overview (spring 2004), found that among persons who had taken cruises, more than two-fifths (43%) said they were "extremely satisfied" with their vacations. This response was nine percentage points higher than the number who reported being extremely satisfied with a visit to friends or relatives. Packaged land-based vacations were ranked extremely satisfying by 30%, as were camping trips. Vacation house rentals (29%) and nonpackaged trips (28%) were slightly lower on the list. (See Table 8.4.)
SPORTS: AN EXPRESSION OF NATIONAL VALUES
A Brief History of American Sports
From ancient times, sports have played a role in defining manhood. Powerful men displayed their status and wealth by building horseracing tracks or sponsoring sporting events, while humbler ones gained a sense of power, prowess, masculinity, and sometimes wealth as participants or spectators in games. Despite differences in social rank, sports united men in a shared patriarchal culture. Athletics encouraged men to display their competitiveness and physical abilities and motivated them to think in terms of winning and losing. Sports generally helped to support a vision of masculinity that emphasized aggression and physicality.
|Percentage reporting themselves to be "extremely satisfied" with their vacation, by type of vacation, 2001–2002|
|Note: Data was based on a 5-point scale where "5" is "Extremely satisfied" and "1" is "Not at all satisfied"|
|source: "Satisfaction Levels with Various Vacation Alternatives," in The Cruise Industry—An Overview, Cruise Lines International Association, Spring 2004, http://www.cruising.org/press/overview/SPRING040V1.pdf (accessed July 7, 2004)|
|Cruise vacation or ocean/sea voyage||34%||43%||44%||—|
|Visit to friends/relatives||29||34||36||32%|
|Vacation house rental||30||29||31||29|
|Resort vacation (own arrangements)||24||27||30||24|
|Resort vacation (package)||N/A||27||33||27|
|Land-based escorted tour||24||26||29||26|
|Vacation as part of business trip||19||25||26||26|
In the late 1800s the advent of daily sports newspaper pages and telegraph lines to transmit baseball scores contributed to a growing sporting culture. The expansion of cities spurred the growth of sports, which developed most rapidly in urban areas, where a burgeoning manufacturing economy was producing huge amounts of wealth. As cities grew, recreation was increasingly transformed into entertainment, an amusement to be purchased with earnings.
Despite events that drew many thousands of fans and hundreds of newspaper reporters, professionalism in sports was still unusual, profits were secondary to pleasure, organizations were informal, and scheduling was irregular. Sports continued to be voluntary associations based on class, ethnic, or occupational background. Sports, like religion, politics, and business, became threads binding the tapestry of American culture.
Not only were sports changing and growing during the nineteenth century, but many Americans were also beginning to view sports as a moral force. Taking charge of one's physical condition became a prerequisite for a virtuous, self-reliant, spiritually elevated life. Moral improvement, self-mastery, and godliness were invoked in the name of sports. By the mid-1800s, even clergymen, intellectuals, and reformers took up the cause. As Henry David Thoreau declared, "The body existed for the highest development of the soul."
the profit motive emerges—professionalization and commercialization. In an era of urban overcrowding and strict labor discipline, leisure activities had the potential to blunt workers' rebelliousness. Reformers argued that sports refreshed workers' spirits, improved their productivity, and alleviated class tensions. If these benefits were insufficient motivation to participate, sports advocates claimed a moral high ground, contending that sports built character. Other people found they could earn money by teaching a game or hustling other players.
Sports became part of a new consumerism during the twentieth century. New technologies led to better sports gear and equipment, and as a result, improved performance. A sports team became an employer with a "bottom line." Unlike athletes who earlier participated because they believed it would improve their body or their character, players now threw a ball to earn a living. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, professional sports were generally recognized as commercial endeavors. Sports were big business, and those who did not compete in sports could pay to see other people compete or wager on the outcomes of competitions.
Following the lead of professional sports, amateur sports have also become big business. Some critics believe that the status of amateur sports, even at the middle school and high school levels, is threatened by an increasing emphasis on commercialization. They cite scandals involving recruiting, redshirting (holding a player back a year until he or she grows bigger, gets better, or a player in his or her position graduates; although the player attends school, he or she does not use up a year of athletic eligibility), phony courses, and inflated or bogus grades. There is even fear that the scandals plaguing professional and Olympic sports, such as steroid and drug use, sexual misconduct, and corruption, could derail the careers of promising high school and college athletes.
When Americans participate in a sports activity, they often buy the best equipment and gear. Beginning in the 1980s and continuing through the turn of the century, many Americans possessed a considerable amount of discretionary income, and many used it to support their varied sports and fitness interests. Sporting goods continued to be a thriving market, with new technologies and products arriving on the shelves weekly.
Many Americans not only participate in a sport or fitness activity but also increasingly compete against others. While many people still jog or run for health, growing numbers do so competitively—in marathons. A biker may not necessarily ride his or her bike to the grocery store, but he or she may enter (with a racing bike costing thousands of dollars) bike races or weekend group rides. Some cyclists take biking holidays or biking day trips.
Labor and play once overlapped more freely than in recent years because leisure time and work time were not so rigidly delineated. For example, sports were not necessarily played according to standardized rules—they were often a part of local culture, passed on by word of mouth, with rules varying from place to place. Today's sports include multiple layers of communication, transportation, professionalism, regulating bodies, records, statistics, and media coverage.
Sports respond to, and reflect, American values. It would be very easy to confuse a Super Bowl presentation with a Fourth of July celebration, with its veneration of nationalism, racial and ethnic integration, "rugged individualism," and hard work. Yet, some see the Super Bowl as more than just a big game celebrating athletic skill; they see it as an enormous commercial undertaking intended to sell advertisements and generate huge profits for owners, players, and television networks.
Violence in the Sports Arena
Although physical prowess continues to find a place in American society, it competes with an appreciation of, and need for, other qualities, such as intellect and cooperation. Furthermore, valuing and rewarding physical aggression in a civil society has sometimes presented serious challenges. When athletes and others are trained and encouraged to excel at physically aggressive pursuits, they are sometimes unable to harness those tendencies outside the sports arena. Hitting an opponent so hard that he has trouble getting up is a positive act loudly applauded in the boxing ring, while the same action in the parking lot after a bout could send an athlete—or spectator—to jail.
The Deification of Sports Figures: Who Are the Heroes?
The sudden flowering of a mass culture during the twentieth century brought about by the growth in media and communications produced a wealth of new sports heroes. Increasingly, the public world became populated by sports celebrities with national reputations and appeal—heroes such as Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio, Sandy Koufax, and Chris Evert.
The Gallup Organization conducted a poll, reported in January 2000, that basketball player Michael Jordan, by an enormous margin, was considered to be the top athlete of the twentieth century. A sampling of adults, aged eighteen and older, were asked "what man or woman living any time this century do you think was the greatest athlete of the century, in terms of their athletic performance?" Jordan was chosen by 23%.
In 2004 ESPN.com asked its visitors to rank the top twenty-five athletes of the previous twenty-five years; Jordan was again ranked first, followed by hockey player Wayne Gretzky, bicyclist Lance Armstrong, golfer Tiger Woods, and football wide receiver Jerry Rice.
are they what they seem? Celebrity athletes serve as role models for young people and aspiring athletes, and they can exert powerful marketing effectiveness. Advertising and public relations professionals quickly understood the benefit of linking these icons to products. The public's fascination with fame and glamour enabled heroes to mold the taste of their fans. Sports heroes gained widespread recognition and became known as marketing images rather than real human beings.
As a result, many people have come to revere sports figures, to regard them as heroes, and to credit them with attributes they may not possess. The American public holds its sports figures in high esteem, puts them on pedestals, and appears shocked when heroes demonstrate they are mortals who share the weaknesses of others. Although sports have always had their share of misbehavior, in recent years the media has been able to publicize the indiscretions, such as allegations of substance abuse and domestic violence, of a number of sports figures. Famous athletes who earned reputations as models of athletic prowess and success have sometimes disappointed and disenchanted admiring fans.
RECREATION FOR HEALTH
Americans are living longer and are generally healthier. More people are able physically and, increasingly, financially to participate in recreational activities. Older adults are a growing market in the sales of many consumer items, including recreational vehicles, sporting goods, books, and computers.
Active Recreation Prevents Disease
Lack of physical exercise not only contributes to the risk of heart disease but also increases the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and arthritis. Regular physical activity is also linked to improved mental health by reducing mild anxiety and depression. Health professionals agree that even moderate amounts of exercise, such as walking thirty minutes a day, five times a week, as opposed to strenuous physical activity, such as running, provides substantial health benefits. Despite unassailable evidence demonstrating its potent disease prevention and health promotion benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that more than 50% of American adults do not exercise enough to reap health benefits and 25% do not exercise at all during their leisure time.
Physical activity was the first leading health indicator of Healthy People, 2010, the source document that served as a blueprint for improving the health status of Americans. Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Healthy People, 2010 defined regular leisure-time physical activity as performing light to
moderate physical activity for thirty or more minutes, five or more times per week, or vigorous physical activity for twenty or more minutes, three or more times per week. The National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, used this definition to track Americans' leisure-time physical activity. The survey data showed a slow, steady increase in the percentage of adults ages eighteen and older who engaged in regular leisure-time physical activity, from 29.9% in 1998 to 33% in 2003. The number of adults who engaged in regular leisure-time physical activity declined with advancing age, however, and women in every age group reported less physical activity. (See Figure 8.2.) Regular leisure-time physical activity was highest among whites (35.9%), followed by African-Americans (25.9%) and Hispanics (24.6%).
the president makes physical fitness a top priority. Concern about Americans' lack of physical activity prompted President George W. Bush to announce a federal effort to improve fitness levels among adults and children on June 20, 2002. In a campaign that recalled the one launched by President John F. Kennedy four decades earlier, President Bush appointed a presidential council and issued an executive order along with twelve pages of recommendations about how Americans could improve their health and fitness. The president urged Americans to follow his example of running three miles a day and lifting weights to stay fit. A Web site (www.presidentschallenge.org) was also set up to offer fitness tips and help Americans track their progress online. President Bush subsequently declared May 2004 to be National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.
RECREATION FOR HEALING
Ancient teachings are replete with claims of the benefits of recreational experiences: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine" (Proverbs) and "You can learn more about a man in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation" (Plato). But starting in the nineteenth century, such principles began to be applied in health care settings in a purposeful, organized manner.
Increasingly, medical professionals have begun applying recreation to healing. Therapists have researched the effects of aquatic therapy on the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Others have found that horseback riding, for as yet unknown reasons, produces a remission in some patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. Mental health facilities have recognized the importance of bright, healthy surroundings and pleasant diversions for sufferers of mental and emotional conditions, unlike the harsh penal atmosphere generally accorded to patients in early mental facilities.
Many people have found that the presence of animals helps the recovery of the ill and improves the health and well being of residents in nursing homes. Some studies have documented the relaxation response and resulting reduction in blood pressure from simply observing an aquarium. Almost everyone understands that engaging in satisfying forms of recreation and pleasurable leisure-time pursuits is vital for maintaining overall health.