Want a better family? Get Outside! (seriously, science says so)

The best family time is outdoors.

The best family time is outdoors.


Author: TrailMob
Date: 06.23.16

Fourth of July is coming and you can certainly expect America’s campgrounds and trails to be packed with families. Researchers at the University of Illinois have recently concluded that all those celebrating families may very well be on to something.

Specifically, the researchers contend that time spent in nature improves how family members relate to each other. Readers of TrailMob may already recognize the benefits of time spent outdoors, but the research is notable in that it focuses more on the benefit to the family unit, as opposed to the individual.  

“When your attention is restored, you’re able to pick up on social cues more easily, you feel less irritable, and you have more self-control. All of these are variables that can help you get along better with others,” explains Dina Izenstark, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I, and lead author of a recent study published in the Journal of Family Theory and Review.

The study also highlights the difference between family time spent in nature vs. time spent doing other more traditional activities (watching TV, for example). While many believe that any activity with family is beneficial, the study indicates this time is not as helpful as time spent outside. Why? Time spent outdoors is simply more regenerative.

Izenstark explains, “There is a growing body of literature that utilizes attention restoration theory to show how exposure to nature can restore attentional functioning. (Researchers) Kaplan and Kaplan propose that the natural environment is a unique context because it often has the four characteristics that encourage restored attention: being away, fascination, extent, and compatibility.

This makes good sense, considering that we find ourselves inundated with technology and other distractions more and more. Screen time and other stimulating settings require our direct attention, which may feel enjoyable at the time but is actually fatiguing for the brain and contributes to weaker family connections.

The study is timely and reflects a growing movement to encourage time spent outdoors (e.g., Find Your Park, Let’s Move Outside Campaign, Leave No Child Inside Movement, and Every Kid in a Park, to name a few).

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