Research finds that nature sounds improve health. Listening to the sounds of birds and water can lower stress, improve mood, and may even make you smarter.
The sounds and music you play in your spa can have a profound effect on your guest experience and research has found that listening to nature sounds can have “striking” human health benefits.
Engaging all five senses is a key part of the spa and wellness experience and the sounds guests hear make a big difference.
According to Julian Treasure, a sound and communication expert, sound affects us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively and behaviorally. A sound can trigger the fight or flight response and the release of cortisol, it can create a reaction that affects our breath and increases heart rate. Consider the sounds of someone shouting, a car backfiring, or brakes squealing, and how that affects our nervous systems. We know that loud noises can cause stress, and other types of sound can have a powerful opposite effect. Music can calm and soothe us and the sounds of nature can relax and reassure. A recently published study from researchers at Carleton University, Michigan State University, Colorado State University, and the National Park Service demonstrates the latter.
Nature sounds improve health outcomes
The researchers examined sound recordings from 251 sites in 66 national parks across the United States and explored whether and to what degree natural sounds, including animal sounds and sounds from wind and water, influence health outcomes. A meta analysis of 18 of 36 publications examining the health benefits of natural sound revealed evidence for decreased stress and annoyance, improved health, and positive affective outcomes.
People who experienced the sounds of nature felt decreased pain, lower stress, improved mood, and had enhanced cognitive performance (it even makes you smarter). Bird sounds were best for combatting stress and annoyance, while the sound of water was most effective at improving positive emotions and health outcomes, states a research brief.
The researchers wrote: “The results affirm that natural sounds improve health, increase positive affect, and lower stress and annoyance … Raising awareness of natural soundscapes at national parks provides opportunities to enhance visitor health outcomes.”
Study author Rachel Buxton, a research scientist in Carlton’s Department of Biology, said in a statement: “In so many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of nature for human health” said study author Rachel Buxton, a research scientist in Carlton’s Department of Biology. “As traffic has declined during quarantine, many people have connected with soundscapes in a whole new way—noticing the relaxing sounds of birds singing just outside their window. How remarkable that these sounds are also good for our health.”
Amber Pearson, a fellow lead author and associate professor at Michigan State University, said the findings highlight that, in contrast to the harmful health effects of noise, natural sounds may actually bolster mental health. “Most of the existing evidence we found is from lab or hospital settings,” she said. “There is a clear need for more research on natural sounds in our everyday lives and how these soundscapes affect health.”
These findings bolster the health benefit claims of wellness activities like forest bathing, also known as shinrin yoku. They also underscore the importance of giving the sound in your spa – including acoustics, environmental sounds, and music – serious attention.
The most relaxing music in the world
When it comes to the music you play in your spa it’s not always the best idea to make assumptions, assume everyone likes the same thing, and go straight to the new age music. There are a lot of people who are put off by the genre. That being said, there’s a reason why new age music and nature sounds are popular.
There is evidence that some music can have an intensely relaxing effect, slowing heart rate and potentially inducing sleep. Certain sonic elements are said to induce a state of calm, including a drone and a slow pulse — elements consistently found in new age music.
Research conducted in 2011 found that the “most relaxing tune ever” was a track called “Weightless” by Manchester artists Marconi Union. The song contains harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines designed to help slow heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels. The song was also said to slow breathing and reduce brain activity, and tests found it to be more effective at inducing relaxation than songs by Enya, Mozart and Coldplay. Subjects experienced a 65% reduction in overall anxiety at a level 35% lower than their usual resting rates.
“Weightless” features guitar, piano, and electronic samples of natural soundscapes overlayed with chants. It contains a sustaining rhythm that begins at 60 beats per minute and diminishes to around 50.
Here is the track.
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