NPS-backed study links nature sounds to mental health

By Rob Hotakainen | 05/10/2021 01:24 PM EDT

A new study found that natural sounds like rain falling are linked to positive health benefits.

A new study found that natural sounds like rain falling are linked to positive health benefits. Dimitar Bachvarov/Flickr

A study of sound recordings from 251 sites in 66 national parks found that listening to natural sounds may be one of the best ways to promote mental health and deal with the stresses of everyday life.

Researchers at the National Park Service and three universities said they found "striking human health benefits" from just getting out in nature.

"The team found people experienced decreased pain, lower stress, improved mood and enhanced cognitive performance," the study said. "The sounds of water were most effective at improving positive emotions and health outcomes, while bird sounds combat stress and annoyance."


Researchers from Colorado State University, Canada’s Carleton University and Michigan State University teamed up with the park service for the study called "A synthesis of health benefits of natural sounds and their distribution in national parks" and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Officials said the study could help shape the way that national parks and other public lands are managed.

"Park sites near urban areas with higher levels of visitation represent important targets for soundscape conservation to bolster health for visitors," said Kurt Fristrup, the study’s co-author and a NPS bio-acoustical scientist.

"Nature-based health interventions are increasingly common in parks, and incorporating explicit consideration of the acoustic environment is an opportunity to enhance health outcomes for people," he added.

Colorado State officials said dozens of their students worked on the study.

Researchers said they hope the study will help the public understand the oftentimes underappreciated benefits of conservation and preserving natural landscapes.

"The positive health impacts and stress reduction benefits of nature are more salient than ever to help offset the concerning increase in anxiety and mental health issues," said George Wittemyer, a co-author of the study and professor at Colorado State who also helps lead the university’s Sound and Light Ecology Team.