So, for the new study, which was published recently in Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy, researchers from the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., decided to look more closely at what we do with our days and, in particular, how we spend our free time.
They began by turning to a large database of information gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. For years, the bureau has conducted an ongoing telephone survey of Americans’ lifestyles, called the American Time Use Survey. For this survey, tens of thousands of men and women ages 15 or older are asked about their days and how they spent their time, almost minute by minute, during the preceding 24 hours. The participants in the survey represent a range of ages, socioeconomic demographics and ethnicities.
The RAND researchers then gathered responses from more than 32,000 of the survey participants between 2014 and 2016 and compared their days, looking at how much of their time was their own.
“We defined leisure time as involving activities that were not in some way required or compulsory,” said Dr. Deborah Cohen, a physician and senior scientist at the RAND Corporation who oversaw the new study.
Time devoted to work, commuting, education, sleeping, cleaning, caring for children or other household members, cooking, food shopping, showering or dressing was not free time. But minutes or hours spent exercising, socializing, relaxing, playing, watching television, volunteering, taking classes for fun, chatting with friends, traveling for pleasure or otherwise not working constituted leisure time.