Waves on a beach, the rustling of leaves, birdsong early in the morning — nature has its own rhythms, and these sounds may be even better for our health than we realise.
Sounds of nature can help relieve symptoms of stress, alleviate intense pain, and enhance cognitive performance, a recent study has shown. The study was conducted jointly by researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada; and America’s Michigan State University, Colorado State University, and US National Park Service (NPS).
These effects may hark all the way back to early man, when the dominance of these natural sounds suggested an absence of threat or danger, and an indication that all was well in the vicinity. The findings point to how the human brain is evolutionarily trained to find safe settings and thus feel assured, Kurt Fristrup, a co-author of the study, research faculty at Colorado State University and a retired bioacoustical scientist with NPS, told Wknd. “Though our present modes of living are dramatically different from our distant ancestors, our physiological responses to these cues have likely been conserved,” Fristrup added.
Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study analysed the effects of sound recordings from 251 sites across 66 national parks in the US. Overall health outcomes such as blood pressure levels and perceived pain were 184% better among those exposed to natural sounds, compared with those who were not, the study showed. Groups exposed to natural sounds also saw a 28% decrease in levels of “stress and annoyance” compared with the comparison group.
The researchers found that specific sounds brought about particular benefits. Soundscapes with water in them improved emotional well-being and overall health outcomes, while those with birds provided the best stress relief. Of the three types of natural sounds (birds, water, and mixed) analysed, researchers found that sounds of softly flowing water had the largest effect for health and positive outcomes. “I suspect that the restorative effect of these water sounds hinges upon their subtlety,” Fristrup said.
The study has an urban planning component, said Rachel Buxton, lead author of the study and a research scientist in Carleton University’s department of biology. “It raises the issue of how important natural soundscapes are. When we think of managing parks, we don’t often think of managing the acoustic environment. Yet, our study shows that it may well be a central component of the rejuvenating aspects of spending time in nature.”
Buxton added that it was encouraging to find evidence that “listening to nature sounds paired with traffic noise had greater health outcomes than just listening to traffic noise. This is good news for urbanites who may not be able to escape noise, but can still get health benefits of listening to natural sounds.”
So, wherever you are in these stressful times, close your eyes, try and hear the birds, the wind in the leaves. You’ll feel better instantly. It’s science.
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