Little research has been done on the association between relaxation and health. In the present study, by conducting a nationwide cross-sectional survey, we aimed to obtain scientific data on the preferable forms of relaxation for health promotion, and to clarify the associations between specific recreational activities and self-perceived mental and physical health. We selected 4,000 households by stratified random sampling from across Japan in November 2009 and used the interview method to collect data (number of subjects: 2,206). The questionnaire contained items on sleep, recreation status, recreational activities, and self-perceived mental and physical health status. We obtained responses from 1,224 adults (response rate: 55.5%). Insufficient rest from sleep, short sleep duration (<6 h/day), ineffective use of free time, and less free time used for activities other than rest showed independent positive associations with poor mental and physical health. The results of the logistic regression analyses showed significantly low adjusted odds ratios with regard to the status of poor mental and physical health for outings/walking among men (0.33 [95% confidence interval; 0.16-0.68] and 0.49 [0.26-0.90], respectively), and for community activities among women (0.19 [0.04-0.79] and 0.27 [0.09-0.77], respectively). Relaxation for the promotion of health should include both passive relaxation (rest) and active relaxation (recreation). In addition, ensuring sufficient sleep duration is important for passive relaxation, and engaging in outings/walking for men and community activities for women are important for active relaxation.