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 stress.
Research published in June 2019 in Scientific Reports 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.
A 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 COVID-19 pandemic, data showed that indeed, even a view outside can be helpful if nature is involved. The research, published in November 2020 in Ecological Applications, 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 depression, 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 Lancet 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.