For the review, the researchers looked at 18 studies investigating the health benefits of natural sound; study participants listened to recordings of outdoor sounds in laboratory settings. Participants reported less stress and improved health outcomes, like decreased pain, after listening to recordings of nature sounds.
Water sounds, such as that gurgling brook or a steady waterfall, tended to be the most effective at improving positive affect (the psychological term for a more positive outlook or disposition and the experience of joy and interest), while bird sounds were best for lowering
The study’s lead author,
Rachel Buxton, PhD
, a research associate and conservation biologist in the Department of Biology at Carleton University in Ottawa, says she isn’t surprised by the findings. “From an evolutionary perspective, humans are hardwired to attend to signals of danger and security. And an environment that is filled with natural sounds feels safe and allows us to let our guard down,” she says.
This research adds to a substantial body of evidence that proximity to nature and time spent outdoors is good for human health and well-being.
Research Shows Green Space Benefits Health in Many Ways
published in June 2019 in
found that people who spent just two hours per week outside in a natural setting (including town parks, state parks, woodlands, and beaches) reported greater well-being compared with people who spent less time outdoors.
November 2019 meta-analysis in
Lancet Public Health
funded by the World Health Organization pooled data from nine studies involving more than 8 million people from seven different countries. The research showed that people who lived near or in green spaces tended to live longer than those exposed to less green space.
In a study designed to evaluate whether exposure to nature could help counter some of the negative effects of time indoors and under lockdown because of the global
pandemic, data showed that indeed, even a view outside can be helpful if nature is involved. The research, published in
November 2020 in
looked at about 3,000 people in Tokyo and found that both seeing greenery from a window and going outside helped improve major mental health measures like
, subjective happiness, self-esteem, and loneliness.
This research (like new one from Buxton’s group) shows that you don’t need to head out on a camping trip or even a hike to get the benefits of nature — even a short break filled with natural sounds and sights can be a refresher for the brain.
Part of the reason getting outside might be so good for us in the first place is that we’re probably being more active than if we are spending that time inside, and we may be socializing more, too, says
Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, PhD
, a professor in environmental epidemiology at the Barcelona Institute for Global Research, who was a coauthor of the aforementioned
study. “All of that can improve our immune systems and may all contribute to longer and healthier lives.”
Dr. Nieuwenhuijsen says the recent study’s results aren’t surprising, and it highlights the importance of natural sounds. “People tend to enjoy when there’s a nice soundscape,” he says.
New Data Analyzed Benefits of Listening to a Range of Outdoor Sounds
For the recent review about the effects of nature sounds on health, the recordings done at parks included a range of sounds, such as thunder, wind, insects, and frogs, as well as ample birdsong. They were recorded in 66 national parks during the summer at dawn.
The recordings were played for participants in lab settings in 11 countries. The most significant outcome linked to the recordings was decreased stress and annoyance. Many participants also reported decreased pain and improved mood, and they performed better on cognitive tests.
Though many other studies show that being in nature is good for health and well-being, this review more specifically points to the benefit of natural sounds, Buxton explains. And recordings seemed to be just as effective as the real thing.
Buxton says the team plans to continue to study the effects of nature sounds on health and well-being and in particular, if there’s a specific quantity that’s best or if certain sounds yield more benefit. For example, is it better to have numerous types of birdsong plus water sounds, or is there a point where that feels like noise?
Get Outside for a Mood Reset
So, what does all this data tell us about how much time outside, exactly, we should schedule every day to
, and at what time of day is most effective?
Fortunately, you don’t have to get that prescriptive about it, suggests
, a productivity expert in Asheville, North Carolina, and the author of
The Joy of Missing Out: Live More by Doing Less.
“Sit outside, take a little walk, listen to the birds, or just breathe,” she says. “Maybe you can make it into a morning ritual, or as a way to take a break from work, or both. It doesn’t take long to give yourself that kind of mindful reset.”
Particularly now, as the pandemic drags on, creating that type of everyday habit can offer mental refreshment, she says. The pandemic monotony is real, and as the recent study highlights, it may not take much to brighten up the day.
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AUTHOR: ELIZABETH MILLARD
DATE: APRIL 9TH, 2021
BIO: Contributing Health Writer - freelance writer based in northern Minnesota. She focuses on health, wellness, and fitness, and has written for Runner's World, Bicycling, SELF, Women's Health, Men's Health, Prevention, Experience Life, and more. She is also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and a Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher, and she leads power yoga classes on the farm she shares with her wife (yes, there are goats!). She graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in English