That and other sounds can upgrade your workout, your happiness, and your health. Here’s how to tune in.
“Sound affects the human body deeply,”says Julian Treasure, a sound expert and founder of the Sound Agency in the UK. “We experience it faster than any other sense, and our ears are working even when we’re asleep.” Noise can inﬂuence our heart rate, breathing, brain waves, and hormones, as well as our focus, concentration, and mood, studies show.
The right background noise can also motivate you, pushing you to a PR (personal record) in a race or a tough project at work. It can soothe and relax you as well, melting away stress. However, harnessing the positive power of sound has been an inexact science until now. These strategies, newly developed by researchers, will help make it work for you, easily and effectively.
First, there was white noise to help you zone out. Now experts are discovering pink noise – a mix of high and low sound frequencies. Adults who listened to pink noise while snoozing spent 23 per cent more time in unbroken shut-eye, a study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology found.
“Pink noise enhances the naturally occurring slow brain waves characteristic of deep sleep,” says Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. To play pink noise all night, try an app like Noisli (S$2.98, iTunes and Google Play).
FIND YOUR NATURAL FOCUS
Sounds of nature increase the resting activity in your brain, calming stress and helping you concentrate, researchers of a UK study report. People are wired to enjoy natural sounds, the study’s author Cassandra Gould van Praag says. They blend into your unconscious and block out other noises, letting you zone in on the task at hand.
The next time you need to focus, try a playlist of ocean waves or forest sounds. But if you grew up in the city, you might ﬁnd nature sounds distracting, adds Cassandra. If so, try a cityscape playlist.
Music can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity of the mucous system, and natural killer cell counts (the cells that attack invading germs and bacteria) – two of the body’s best immune defenses, according to research from McGill University in Montreal.
Nature sounds are even better at helping you heal. A recording of rippling water was more effective than music at cutting levels of cortisol, which has been shown to slow recovery, a study in PLOS One found. When you’re sick or injured, play wildlife sounds or relaxing music. You’ll feel tranquil, and you may get back on your feet faster, too.
USE TONE TO GET INTO THE ZONE
During a sound bath (also known as sound meditation or sound therapy), a practitioner uses singing bowls, gongs, and bells to create tranquil tones that signiﬁcantly reduce tension, anxiety as well as pain, and lift one’s mood and well-being, a recent study found.
“Certain sound frequencies and rhythms shift your brain waves from a more active state to introspective states akin to meditation,” says Nate Martinez, a certiﬁed sound therapy practitioner. Try it at home by searching for sound meditations on YouTube.
Music is motivating and can stimulate the release of endorphins, boosting stamina, Julian says. Any music you like will help, but faster may be better. Shifts in tempo can make you speed up or slow down accordingly.
YOUR WORKOUT IS WAY TOO LOUD!
The average spin class exposes you to nearly nine times more noise in 45 minutes than what’s recommended over a duration of eight hours, a study by Massachusetts Eye and Ear – an international centre for treatment and research, and a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School – found.
Most ﬁtness studios are guilty of cranking up the volume in classes. That’s a big problem as less than an hour of loud noise reorganises the hearing circuits in your brain, leading to mild hearing loss, experts say. If you have to raise your voice to make yourself heard during class or your ears ring afterwards, your hearing just took a hit, the World Health Organization reports.
To protect your hearing:
WEAR EAR PLUGS during loud classes and position yourself in a spot as far away from the speakers as you possibly can be.
SOOTHE YOUR EARS by regularly listening to white noise after class from a machine like LectroFan Micro ($105, http://www.lazada.sg). White noise prevents the changes in your hearing circuits that can be caused by loud noise, the Journal of Neuroscience found.
LIMIT HOW OFTEN YOU PUT ON HEADPHONES. You need music to power you through a treadmill routine. But around the house? Not so much. Noise-induced damage depends on the duration and frequency of exposure in addition to volume, so skip the earbuds when you can.