The whoosh of wind through a stretch of forest, birds calling to one another as they land on branches, the gurgle of a brook over a rocky bed — these are the kinds of sounds that are not only calming, but could have profound health and well-being benefits, according to a research review in the April 2021 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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.
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?