Whether you’re in a wood, park, garden or downloading nature sounds at home or work, they have more health benefits than you realise, according to research.
In collaboration with the national park service, researchers from North America analysed data from 18 previous studies exploring how natural sounds influence human health.
“Sound perception enables most species, including all known vertebrates, to surveil their surroundings. Thus hearing causes behavioural change and physiological responses to soundscapes [e.g. changes in heart rate regulated by the sympathetic nervous system]”, wrote the authors.
The results published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that natural sounds reduce stress, lower blood pressure, decrease pain, elevate mood and improve cognitive performance – the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
The research also shines a light on how sounds provide specific benefits. For example, bird song was the most effective at reducing stress and annoyances. Water sounds, such as a waterfall or a babbling brook, were most effective at lifting mood and improving cognition.
Nature sounds also hide artificial sounds such as cars, planes and trains, especially continuous water. Hearing bird sounds and artificial noise simultaneously had more benefits than listening to noise alone. Although the benefits were not the same as environments with little human noise, they still helped.
Why particular sounds have specific benefits isn’t clear. However, the authors speculate that “ The importance of water sounds may relate to the critical role of water for survival, as well as the capacity of continuous water sounds to mask noise, but they also increase the pleasantness and positive perception of urban green space”.
Buxton. R.T., Pearson. A.L., and Allou. C et al. (2021). A synthesis of health benefits of natural sounds and their distribution in national parks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118, 14, e2013097118.https://doi:org/10.1073/pnas. 2013097118 https://www.pnas.org/content/118/14/e2013097118
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