Is it pleasure or health from leisure that we benefit from most? An analysis of well-being alternatives and implications for policy

Paul Downward, Peter Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


International policy now constantly advocates a need for populations to engage in more physical activity to promote health and to reduce society’s health care costs. Such policy has developed guidelines on recommended levels and intensity of physical activity and implicitly equates health with well-being. It is assumed that individual, and hence social welfare will be enhanced if the activity guidelines are met. This paper challenges that claim and raises questions for public policy priorities. Using an instrumental variable analysis to value the well-being from active leisure, it is shown that the well-being experienced from active leisure that is not of a recommended intensity to generate health benefits, perhaps due to its social, recreational or fun purpose, has a higher value of well-being than active leisure that does meet the guidelines. This suggests rethinking the motivation and foundation of existing policy and perhaps a realignment of priorities towards activity that has a greater contribution to social welfare through its intrinsic fun and possibly social interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-465
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Issue number1
Early online date5 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • Subjective well being
  • Happiness
  • Health
  • Active leisure
  • Sports

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