Nature Sounds Can Actually Heal Pain, According to a New Study

A babbling brook in the forest with moss covered rocks

You already knew that getting outside to breathe a bit of fresh air and take in the sunshine is good for your soul, but as one researcher recently found, getting outside to listen to Mother Nature can actually help heal your body too.

Rachel Buxton, a research associate in the department of biology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, along with a few of her colleagues, recently studied the effects of natural sounds, including the birds chirping and rivers running, on both the human mind and its effects on human pain. The team found natural sounds can have a positive effect on both, and published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's good for what we're calling positive effect, so things like feelings of tranquility," Buxton shared with U.S. News and World Report about the findings. "It's good for alleviating stress and just a wide variety of benefits that we saw from alleviating pain to improving mood and cognitive ability…I think it's really remarkable, not only that natural sounds confer these health benefits, but also the variety of health benefits."

As to which sound people respond to best, the researchers found soundscapes that included birds had the largest effect on lowering stress and feelings of annoyance.

"We actually have pretty good evidence that there are major health benefits to being exposed to nature," George Wittemyer, co-author of the study, shared with 9 News. "The evidence is really clear. Listening to natural sounds reduces stress, reduces annoyance and it's correlated with positive health benefits."

So we should all run to our nearest national park, right? Well, hang on a second, because the researchers have a bit of bad news to share too.

While researching how natural sounds affect humans, the team studied audio tracks recorded at 221 sites across 68 national parks. It found that biological sounds (those made by animals) were highly audible at about 75 percent of the sites. However, it also found that human noises like car horns were found in high levels at almost every park. In total, it found just 11.3% of the places they evaluated had low audibility of human sounds. This means the more people that go to parks, the more human noises will drown out the natural ones.

Still, this doesn't mean the team thinks we should avoid natural spaces, but rather, spend more of our efforts protecting them.

"I would strongly encourage people to take a moment to stop and listen. Experience the benefits of sound. I think it's something we often overlook and take for granted," Wittemyer said. "We should be protecting them. We should be protecting the natural soundscape and ensure that we don't inundate it with noise."

Read more about the findings here.

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