In December 2019, there was a COVID-19 outbreak [1
] in Wuhan, China, and as of now, 3,267,976 people have been infected worldwide and 233,936 have died [4
]. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the severity of COVID-19 and declared it a global pandemic, and each nation took strong measures such as quarantine and lockdown to curb the spread of infection [5
In the case of the United States, the nation with the highest number of cases, quarantine and area lockdown over three consecutive weeks caused loss of employment for 16,800,000 people, which is 11% of the entire workforce; people have also been prohibited from leaving their houses [6
]. These measures could reduce the spread of COVID-19, but at the same time, they have resulted in the stigma [7
] of democratic rights being curbed and have impeded people’s life balance [8
]. People’s life balance is closely connected to their work and leisure activities [10
], and as people are losing their jobs because of COVID 19 and are prohibited from indulging in various events or leisure activities by the government, the balance between work and life has been destroyed [11
]. In the case of South Korea, infected and suspected cases were placed in quarantine. Unlike Italy, China, England, and the United States, the South Korean government recommended that people refrain from social activities, without enforcing a lockdown on the public [12
]. The case of South Korea has been cited as the best response to the COVID-19 pandemic [13
With the decreasing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the South Korean government is aiming to recover citizens’ regular lives through leisure activities by considering the changes in leisure activities due to COVID-19 [15
] and exerting efforts to overcome the disruptions caused by the pandemic [16
]. Therefore, research is needed on the ways Koreans are autonomously participating in leisure activities and maintaining the balance between work and life in the current situation.
The previous studies conducted about COVID 19 are mostly related to pathological, virological, and clinical characteristics of the disease [17
]. Although research about the infectiousness of COVID-19 is important, it is also crucial to conduct research that focuses on individual characteristics like the preventive behaviors and psycho-social health of the public.
Human beings have always considered psycho-social measures like preventive behaviors as very important for highly contagious diseases [20
]. For instance, a study by Youn and Sook [21
] revealed how the level of knowledge about respiratory infection prevention and preventive behaviors are related to the incidence of infection. Furthermore, Tagg and Dierksen [22
] and Saiman et al. [23
] stated that awareness and knowledge about potential infection and potential infection prevention are related to preventive behaviors against the infection. In particular, Conway et al. [24
] emphasized how people’s psychological health functions as an important social factor in coping with a contagious disease like COVID-19. In the global pandemic, people’s involvement in leisure activities can help individuals to recover quickly from emotional scarring caused by the crisis [25
] and will also enhance behaviors related to health and influence the quality of life [26
In response, this study strives to provide basic information about the psychological adjustment mechanism for COVID-19 by analyzing the current status and relationship involving the preventive health behaviors for COVID-19 and psycho-social health based on the social background of South Korean citizens responding to the pandemic as well as the characteristics of their participation in leisure activities.
displays the characteristics of the participants. Women had higher preventive behaviors (M = 4.245) than men but showed a lower psycho-social health (M = 23.101). The participants in their 40s and 50s comprised the largest proportion of participants (21.6%), but those in their teens (M = 4.205) and 60s and above (M = 4.284) displayed the highest preventive behaviors against COVID-19. Psycho-social health also appeared to be high for those in their teens (M = 20.654) and in their 60s and above (M = 20.655). Among the participants, 44.2% earned more than 4 million Won per month. In addition, 1111 (62.7%) participants were married; married participants showed higher preventive behaviors (M = 4.175) and psycho-social health (M = 22.057) than single participants. In the case of subjective health, 44.6% of the participants considered themselves to be healthy; this group showed high preventive behaviors (M = 4.210) and psycho-social health (M = 18.315). Finally, the score for COVID-19 preventive behaviors was 4.116 on average; regarding the psycho-social health status, 131 (7.4%) people who were rated were included in the healthy group, 1059 (59.8%) in the potential stress group, and 580 (32.8%) in the high-risk stress group.
shows the differences in COVID-19 preventive health behaviors according to participation in leisure activities. Among the types of leisure activities, preventive behaviors were highest among those who participated in cultural and art-based activities (M = 4.275, SD = 0.499); it was also shown that preventive behaviors were high (F = 3.694, p
< 0.001) among the groups that engaged in social activities (M = 4.249, SD = 0.525) and tourism activities (M = 4.223, SD = 0.482). In terms of the period of leisure activities, the group that had participated in these activities for over five years (M = 4.141, SD = 0.503) showed the highest preventive behaviors. For the preventive behaviors based on participation time, the group that participated for 1−2 h (M = 4.149, SD = 0.517) had the highest result (F = 3.549, p
< 0.014). Regarding the types of groups that participated in leisure activities together, the group that participated with family (M = 4.197, SD = 0.488) showed the highest preventive behaviors (F = 7.735, p
shows the differences in psycho-social health following the characteristics of participation in leisure activities. Among the different types of leisure activities, social activities (M = 19.421, SD = 9.619) resulted as the highest, and relaxation activities (M = 23.856, SD = 8.238) were the lowest (F = 5.057, p
< 0.001). There was no significant difference between the period of leisure activities and the participation time for leisure activities. Lastly, among the groups that participated in leisure activities together, those who participated with their school and group (M = 19.609, SD = 9.453) showed the highest result (F = 4.678, p
This study investigated the differences in COVID-19 preventive health behaviors and psycho-social health based on the socio-demographic characteristics and the characteristics of participation in leisure activities of the population of South Korea, a country known to have responded well to COVID-19. As a result, preventive actions against COVID-19 were found to be different depending on social characteristics and leisure activity characteristics. It was also found that these characteristics altered the psycho-social health of participants. Specific discussions on this are as follows.
First of all, it was found that COVID-19 preventive behaviors and psycho-social health were higher in women than in men, which is consistent with the results of a study about Australians’ health promotion behaviors based on their lifestyle and gender [31
The virus affects men and women differently [32
]. In the case of the United States, the COVID-19 death rate for men is twice that of women. Meanwhile, in South Korea, the death rate is around 5% higher for men than women [33
]. This result can be attributed to women displaying higher preventive behaviors against COVID-19 than men in South Korea. Additionally, women are exposed to more diseases than men. For instance, women are exposed to female-specific diseases such as breast cancer, menopause, and ovarian and cervical disorders [34
]. Women are also at a higher risk for many diseases like thyroid and urinary incontinence than men are [34
]. Therefore, it is considered that women practice more preventive behaviors for infectious diseases like COVID-19 based on the information and experiences that they have from past diseases. Thus, it is concluded that more education about preventive behaviors should be provided for men to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
The COVID-19 preventive behaviors for each age group showed that the age groups in their teens and those in their 60s and above had the highest preventive behaviors. This result suggests that the infection rate is lower in this age group as the preventive behaviors are higher [35
]. There are 586 teenage patients infected with COVID-19 in South Korea, which is 5% of the total patients infected, and 22% of those infected with COVID-19 are in their 60s and above. The group in their 60s and above showed a rather high number of infected patients compared to their preventive behaviors, which may be because elderly people with respiratory diseases are more susceptible to COVID-19, so there are more cases among this age group, even if individuals practice exceptional preventive behaviors. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases was the highest for the age group in their 20s, with 2940 cases, followed by those in their 40s and 50s [4
]. This is consistent with the results of this study regarding the differences in COVID-19 preventive behaviors. In other words, stringent preventive behaviors are essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the results suggest that young adults, in particular, need to be educated regarding preventive behaviors.
With regard to marital status, the results showed that married people had high COVID-19 preventive behaviors. This is consistent with the finding that if one family member is infected with an infectious disease then it could be fatal for the entire family; hence, caution is needed in the actions of all family members [36
]. Since COVID-19 is also an infectious disease, those who are married and have a family need to be more careful than those who are single, in order to prevent the disease from affecting their family. In the case of COVID-19, preventive behaviors that were followed were based on the self-rated health condition; those who usually considered themselves as healthy showed high preventive behaviors. In a previous study, it was reiterated through counseling that dietary intake and positive thinking were effective in enhancing a healthy lifestyle [37
], and a study by Green and Pope [38
] also showed that the mental aspect should be taken into consideration in order to enhance the health condition and prevent health risk behaviors.
There were several differences found in COVID-19 preventive behaviors and psycho-social health depending on the types of leisure activities. The groups with high preventive behaviors against COVID-19 were the groups participating in culture and art, tourism activities, and social activities. This is consistent with the result of the research by Young-sook [39
], who analyzed the characteristics of the types of leisure activities.
COVID-19 is an infectious and contagious disease. Accordingly, people who are involved in leisure activities that emphasize the importance of relationships and activities and that involve moving around to other areas are more aware of the risks of transmission of the infection and practice higher preventive behaviors against COVID-19. On the other hand, groups that were involved in relaxation and sports activities showed low preventive behaviors against COVID-19. Recently, the types of leisure activities have been changing due to the COVID-19 situation. People are engaging in leisure activities at home, outdoors, or in their cars without coming into contact with other people [40
], and personal leisure activities like taking a walk, going for a run, and jogging have increased instead of those that involve playing sports with others. As a result, people indulging in leisure activities alone at home or outdoors show low prevention against COVID-19, whereas people who engage in leisure activities where people come into contact with others and which involve relationships display high preventive behaviors against COVID-19.
The psycho-social health based on the types of leisure activities showed that all types were potential stress groups. This shows that anxiety is in effect, since everyone carries the possibility of becoming infected by the disease [41
]. The stress level appeared to be the highest for those who chose relaxation as their leisure activity, which is because the time that people have to rest at home has increased, causing autonomy to decrease and leading to a new form of stress. Moreover, social activities and gatherings are likely to positively influence people’s psycho-social health. Participation in these activities seems to decrease the self-regulations that make people feel like they are imprisoned, but it also causes a new type of stress.
There were no differences in psycho-social health based on the period and participation time for leisure activities, but there were differences in the preventive behaviors. This partially meets the research findings of Hsieh [42
], which showed differences in attitudes depending on the characteristics of participation in leisure activities. Thus, COVID-19 preventive behaviors were high for the group that participated in leisure activities for 1 to 2 h and the group that was engaged in leisure activities for more than five years. This implies that preventive behaviors are practiced more in order to participate in leisure activities.
Lastly, psycho-social health appeared to be higher for the groups that participated in leisure activities with others than people who participated in leisure activities alone. This aligns with the research by Bögels and Emerson [43
] which showed that relationships with other people have an influence on individuals’ physical and mental health. In particular, countermeasures like social distancing were reinforced, and people became more careful about maintaining relationships with others while practicing preventive behaviors. Accordingly, people practice preventive behaviors more when they have company, and in this study the group that participated in leisure activities with family showed the highest preventive behaviors. In particular, it is also notable that the groups participating in leisure activities in groups or organizations instead of participating alone scored the highest on measures of psycho-social health. This case displays the cultural communality characteristic [44
] in South Korea.
This study focused on the social characteristics of South Koreans and the characteristics of participation in leisure activities amongst various best practices in the unprecedented global crisis due to COVID-19. It investigated COVID-19 preventive behaviors and psycho-social health among the South Korean population and verified the importance of leisure activities for people, even during the pandemic. Nonetheless, the study has the following limitations. First, this is a cross-sectional study and cannot verify causal relationships, so its results should be interpreted cautiously. Second, this study has been conducted while the COVID-19 pandemic is still in progress, so the results could be different for situations before and after the pandemic.