Study: Play and Leisure’s impact on mood, stress, and wellbeing

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

As the semester advances, students face increasing stress; which can impact your mental health, and academic performance.

A recent study looked at the role of leisure activities on stress management, mood, and improving well being (1).   This could improve  your academic performance.

What exactly is “leisure activities”?

  • One definition of leisure is “Leisure activities are generally self-selected, self-rewarding behavioral pursuits that take place during non-work time” (1,2,3).
  • A different way of looking at leisure might be play. One definition play is: “Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose” (4).
  • Dr Stuart Brown(5) identified 8 different categories of play, such as explorer, joker, competitor, artist, craftsman, storyteller, performer, director.

What was the study? (1)

  • 115 adults who were working full time were asked 6 times per day for 3 days, about their involvement in leisure, exercise, and social interactions along with their mood, interest, and stress (1).
  • Their stress hormone (cortisol) levels and heart rate were also measured (1).

What were the results? (1)

When participants engaged in leisure they reported (1):

  • More happiness, more interest.
  • Less sadness, less stress, and lower heart rate.

The results were similar when the participants exercised, and even after accounting for social interaction(1); but the exercise group had lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone).

Benefits lasted for hours after the activities.

Different people might benefit from different types of play. What type of play is best for you?

Are there any campus resources on play?


Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.


  1. Zawadzki, M.J., Smyth, J.M. & Costigan, H.J. ann. behav. med. (2015) 49: 605. doi:10.1007/s12160-015-9694-3
  2. Iso-Ahola SE. Basic dimensions of definitions of leisure. J Leis Res. 1979; 11: 28-39.
  3. Manfredo MJ, Driver BL, Tarrant MA. Measuring leisure motivation: A meta-analysis of the recreation experience preference scales. J Leis Res. 1996; 28: 188-213.
  4.  Accessed 9/27/16.
  5. Stuard Brown MD, Christopher Vaughn. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul Paperback – April 6, 2010. Avery publishing. ISBN-13: 978-1583333785