Listen to the whisper of a breeze through a forest, or the gentle burbling of a stream over a rocky bed. Pay attention to the birds as they greet each new day with throaty, joyful calls. These sounds from nature not only help calm our busy lives — new research finds they also can confer profound health and well-being benefits.
Researchers in Canada reviewed two dozen studies that examined the benefits of natural sounds. Participants overwhelmingly reported less stress, improved moods and less pain after listening to recordings of nature sounds. Water sounds helped the most with health, while bird sounds alleviated stress and annoyance.
The researchers noted humans are hardwired to listen for signals of danger and security. An environment of natural sounds feels safe. It allows us to let our guard down, reducing stress and encouraging mental recuperation.
One study they reviewed found people who spent just two hours each week outside in nature — including parks, woodlands and beaches — reported greater well-being than people who spent less time outdoors. Another study, involving more than 8 million people from seven countries, showed people living near green spaces tended to live longer than those living in more urban environments.
The absence of natural sounds has been shown to lead to heightened vigilance and induce a more alert, aroused state. For this reason, the researchers recommend urban planners include more water features and other natural elements in parks to help restore a sense of calmness for city dwellers.