Study looks at health benefits of nature and natural sounds

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Researchers from Carleton University, Michigan State University, Colorado State University, and the National Park Service analyzed studies on the outcomes of listening to natural sounds and found human health benefits, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the study, researchers identified 36 publications examining the health benefits of natural sound. Meta-analyses of 18 of these publications revealed aggregate evidence for decreased stress and annoyance.

The researchers then examined the distribution of natural sounds in relation to anthropogenic sound at 221 sites across 68 parks. National park soundscapes with little anthropogenic sound and abundant natural sounds occurred at 11.3 percent of the sites. Parks with high visitation and urban park sites had more anthropogenic sound, yet natural sounds associated with health benefits also were frequent. These included animal sounds and sounds from wind and water.

The team found beneficial outcomes including decreased pain, lower stress, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive performance. The sounds of water were most effective at improving positive emotions and health outcomes, while bird sounds combat stress and annoyance.

"Most of the existing evidence we found is from lab or hospital settings," said Amber Pearson, PhD, MPH, one of the lead authors and associate professor at Michigan State University, in a statement. "There is a clear need for more research on natural sounds in our everyday lives and how these soundscapes affect health."