Taking short walks together in nature can strengthen family ties, new research suggests.
“Past research shows that in nature individuals’ attention is restored. But, what does that mean for family relationships?,” asked study author Dina Izenstark. “In our research, we made the case that an individual’s attention is restored, they become less irritable, have more self-control, and can pick up on social cues more easily. Because of all of those dynamics, they get along better with other family members.”
Izenstark worked as a family studies researcher at the University of Illinois during the study. She’s now an assistant professor at San Jose State University.
The study included 27 sets of mothers and daughters, ages 10 to 12. After they took 20-minute walks together in nature and in a mall, researchers assessed the groups. The walk in nature boosted positive interactions between the mothers and daughters, helping them get along better.
The walk in nature also restored attention.
“Both moms and daughters experience mental or attentional fatigue. It’s common especially after a full day of concentrating at work or at school,” said Izenstark.
“If you think about our everyday environments, not only are you at work, but maybe your cell phone is constantly buzzing, and you’re getting emails. With all the stimuli in our everyday environments, we tax our attention more than we realize,” she said.
“In nature, you can relax and restore your attention. You need this to help you concentrate better. Also, It helps your working memory,” Izenstark added.
While this study included only mothers and daughters, the findings likely apply to families in general, the researchers said.
“First and foremost, I hope it encourages families to find ways to get outside together, and to not feel intimidated, thinking, ‘Oh, I have to go outside for an hour or make it a big trip,’ Izenstark said.
“Just a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood before or after eating dinner or finding pockets of time to set aside, to reconnect, not only can benefit families in the moment but a little bit after the activity as well,” she added.