Wellness - Gentrification of Leisure?

recreation Jan 21, 2024

Over 40 years ago I was a member of the first cohort of the Recreation Studies Bachelor degree program at the University of Manitoba. The program is now called Recreation Management and Community Development, which makes explaining one’s knowledge base a lot easier.

After graduating, and having acquired further education I went on to work in the fitness industry, and as a K-12 physical education teacher. From there I segued into Holistic Health and had a reputable practice for 11 years in Vietnam. In 2021, life events brought me back to Canada, where I am now in the process of re-establishing my practice and at the same time teaching one of the very courses I took as a first-year student in the Recreation department. Talk about coming full circle!

Leisure vs Wellness

As I observe the course content from the perspective of a wellness practitioner, I find myself wondering if the wellness industry hasn't co-opted the words recreation and leisure and gentrified them with the word Wellness.

There’s no denying, Wellness is a buzz word. It is also a multi-billion-dollar industry. Recreation and leisure aren’t as, well, catchy. When I hear the word recreation, I think of the community recreation centre I went to as a kid for baton lessons. Yes, I twirled the baton, my sister got ballet lessons, but it digress.

The community centre was where we went to put our skates on, and to warm up after a few laps around the rink, and if you had the money, buy some hot chocolate. For those of a certain age it was also the place you went to play BINGO. Although I’m using the past tense because I’m recounting my childhood experiences, I am fully aware these activities still take place at recreation centres all across Canada.

Holistic Mandate

Beyond hot chocolate and BINGO, public recreation service providers are mandated to provide opportunities for individuals to engage in activities that are freely chosen, either physical, social, intellectual, creative or spiritual with the goal of enhancing their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the community,1 in other words, opportunities for wellness.

Have the fundamental principles of leisure and recreation been swallowed up in the commercial global wellness trend? Karl Spracklen, researcher and professor of Leisure Studies, states, “our leisure spaces and leisure choices are increasingly controlled, commodified and privatised.” Spracklen insists that we need to fight this trend.

The Forbidden Fruit

While leisure may seem like something most of us would like to indulge in, it almost seems forbidden, like the forbidden fruit that we are not worthy of, or something not attainable due to various constraints, time and money being the most common barriers. This raises the issue of equitable access to leisure. Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “everyone has the right to rest and leisure.”

With the many challenges we face in the world today, one might consider the topic of leisure to be less worthy of our attention. However, when we consider the role of leisure in its ability to serve as a coping mechanism for life’s adversities, as well as it being, according to Aristotle, “a necessity, both for growth in goodness and for the pursuit of political activities,” perhaps we should reconsider its importance in our lives, decommodify it and study how to ensure its universal access. 

I've just started the Winter 2024 university term teaching “Concepts of Recreation and Leisure” and I’d like to take you along the three-month journey as we define terms, question social constructs, highlight accessibility issues, reflect on influencing factors, and contemplate philosophical viewpoints.

Join in the discussion by following me on LinkedIn.



1. A Framework for Recreation in Canada 2015 Pathways to Wellbeing