Health.com
November 23, 2017

THURSDAY, Nov. 23, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Taking short walks together in nature can strengthen family ties, new research suggests.

And family gatherings at Thanksgiving are the perfect settings for such strolls.

"Past research shows that in nature individuals' attention is restored, but we wanted to know what does that mean for family relationships? In our theoretical model, we made the case that when an individual's attention is restored, they are less irritable, have more self-control, and are able to pick up on social cues more easily. Because of all of those dynamics, we believe they should get along better with other family members," study author Dina Izenstark said in a University of Illinois news release.

The study included 27 sets of mothers and daughters, ages 10 to 12, who were assessed after they took 20-minute walks together in nature and in a mall. The walk in nature boosted positive interactions between the mothers and daughters, helping them get along better.

The walk in nature also restored attention.

"We know that 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, who was a family studies researcher at the University of Illinois when the study was conducted. She's now an assistant professor at San Jose State University.

"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, our attention is taxed more than we realize," she said.

"In nature, you can relax and restore your attention, which is needed to help you concentrate better. It helps your working memory," Izenstark added.

The study was published recently in the journal Children, Youth and Environments.

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.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on family life.

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