Why natural noise is good for our health

Being away from the noisy clamour of crowds and traffic is relaxing and restorative for mind and body. As we head into a bank holiday weekend, certified Nature Therapy Guide Holly Barber, aka the Ecomonkey, ponders why natural noise is good for our health

I’ve often heard people say that they love the peace and tranquility of time spent out in nature – perhaps in a woodland, a meadow or on a deserted beach – and I have to say I’m one of them. These locations are peaceful from the noise of the manmade world – they offer a very different soundscape. One that has proven positive effects on your mental health and wellbeing.

It’s no coincidence that many of the wellbeing apps on the market today offer soundscapes of zen gardens, falling rain, ocean surf, forest ambience and evening crickets. Whilst not all of them will appeal to everyone – there will always be at least one soundscape on there that is likely to offer relaxation.

There are many different schools of thought as to why the natural world is so beneficial to our wellbeing. The three main ones are the Biophilia Hypothesis, the Psychophysiological Stress Recovery Theory and the Attention Restoration Theory.

Biophilia Hypothesis

This relates back to our hunter gatherer ancestors. There was once a time when only natural sounds were heard as our distant relatives roamed the wilderness. We have a preference for natural sounds – they’re comforting and offer a deep rooted familiarity. We are programmed to respond positively to them – they are the sounds of life which in turn provide a sense of feeling safe and secure.

Psychophysiological Stress Recovery Theory (PSRT)

The PSRT relates to our nervous system. Although the 21st century world we live in has evolved over the preceding centuries – our bodies haven’t really caught up. They’re very much designed for 3rd century living. This is especially so when we consider our nervous system. When our body encounters a perceived danger it triggers the sympathetic nervous system into action. This is also known as our flight or fight response where we see an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration amongst other things. The body is prioritising survival above anything else.

Think back to our hunter gatherer ancestors – this would have been triggered by perhaps seeing signs of a bear or mountain lion. In today’s world – it gets triggered with every notification on our phone, each email that pings in our inboxes and anytime spent watching the news. The world today is full of stressors that keep our sympathetic nervous system busy – which isn’t a great place to be for either our physical or mental health. Only once perceived danger has passed will our autonomic nervous system trigger the parasympathetic nervous system into action – this is our rest and digest mode. Energy is redirected back to our digestion, learning, memory, resting and rebuilding muscle. It was Dr Roger S Ulrich who first suggested the role that the natural world offers in the PSRT. The natural world offers a “breather” from the madness of the modern, man-made world and in doing so kick starts the parasympathetic nervous system for our bodies – helping us relax and be in a much healthier place for both our mind and body.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART)

This theory was first proposed in 1989 by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. When we try to maintain intense concentration on anything for an extended period of time it can be mentally exhausting. By either taking a break in or simply viewing what could be described as a “restorative environment” it can help reduce our mental fatigue. There are four key components that make an environment “restorative” according to the Kaplans:

  1. Fascination – it needs to hold one’s attention softly, be something that requires little attention and enables mental reflection – for example waves crashing on a shoreline.
  2. Being Away – it needs to be an environment that is psychologically or physically removed and distant from your everyday life.
  3. Extent – there must be enough structure and content within that environment to make it feel like you are being immersed in it.
  4. Compatibility – it needs to be an environment that the person actively wishes to be engaged with and exposed to.

The natural world, with its multitude of environments, can offer something to suit the needs of most people. Whilst it is great if you have the ability to physically get into that environment – simply looking at a photograph or listening to a soundscape can help restore you. Research carried out in Japan, based on the practice of Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) has shown that the benefits of spending a couple of hours out in nature can stay with you for up to 28 days.

If you’re keen to find out more about slowing down and opening up your senses to the natural world, remotely or in person in West Sussex, visit The Eco Monkey (

Comments are closed.