Arboretum News

Sounds of Nature

Listening to nature can have a positive effect on both the mind and body.

Updated April 29, 2022.

Sandhill Crane in the Spring Peeper Meadow. Photo by Chris McNamara.

By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

If you have been reading my blogs over the past year and a half or so, you know getting outside is essential to human health and wellbeing. However, did you know just listening to sounds of nature can also have a positive effect on both the mind and body?  Rachel Buxton, from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada recently studied the effects of natural sounds (found at national parks) to have positive health benefits on both the human mind and its effects on human pain.  You can read more about their findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research suggests sounds of nature produce feelings like tranquility and are good for alleviating stress and pain.  The sounds people responded to best included the sounds of birds, which had the largest effect on lowering stress and feelings of annoyance.  While this research is not surprising, it brings up a bit of caution, 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 birds, animals, water, insects etc.) were highly audible at about 75 percent of the sites. However, it also found that human noises (like car horns) had the highest level at almost every park. In total, it found just 11.3 percent of the places 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.

Does that mean we should avoid natural spaces?  No – but it does mean as we experience the benefits of natural sounds, we should also spend time protecting them.  It is all a balance. Instead of taking this wondrous gift of nature for granted – next time – stop, listen and be mindful of our human impact on the natural world.

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