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The healthy sound of silence

October 2016

man clasping hands over his ears

We have all heard about noise pollution, it is one of those new phrases that can apply simply to the constant music we hear in shops, the endless roar of traffic if we live near busy roads, or the regular pinging from household items such as washing machines and dishwashers.

Whatever the cause, without doubt the world is a much noisier place than it was a century ago. Certainly, in the days of transport by horses, there was still enormous bustle in the streets; in the small crowded homes there would have been the crackling of the fires and the noise from all the children being brought up in a confined area.

But there would also have been moments of total silence. Hanging out washing, walking down a street empty of traffic, even resting in a park; most lives in the past would have regularly experienced very quiet moments. Today even in parks we can often hear the noise from nearby traffic; the sounds coming out from the over loud earphones that many youngsters wear today; or the engines of planes going overhead.

We definitely live in a very noisy world - and this is not good for our health. As long ago as the mid 19th century, famous British nurse Florence Nightingale reported that unnecessary noise can cause distress, sleep loss and alarm, and modern scientific reports have proved her right.

More modern medical research has confirmed this. A scientific study on mice showed that two hours of silence a day led to the development of new cells in the hippocampus. This is part of the brain that is associated with emotion.

A professor at the Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, USA, led an international review team consisting of experts on noise to look at research on noise exposure and overall wellbeing. They reported that noise exposure today poses a serious threat to public health, not just in terms of hearing, but also associated with sleep disturbance, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

It seems prolonged periods of unwanted noise can cause the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and can also have a bad affect on blood hormones such as cholesterol.  Conversely, moments of quiet or even total silence seems to enable the brain to help restore its cognitive resources.

But really we don’t need medical reports for most of us to realise that a few moments silence can help restore peace and harmony into our lives. We don’t need to meditate, but just finding a quiet stillness every so often to let our brains rest and wander naturally can be very therapeutic.

quiet markOne interesting area that can help reduce the noise levels in our everyday world is Quiet Mark.

Quiet Mark is associated with the Noise Abatement Society and was founded in 2012 to help change the way people and manufacturers view products. The aim of Quiet Mark is to create a demand for the use of quieter technology in our homes, in the work place and in the open air. It has produced a “Quiet Mark” as above which is awarded to products and brands which have included noise reduction aspects within their designs. On their website there is a large range of products which have been awarded the Quiet Mark which hopefully will help bring a little more peace back into our lives.

Quiet Mark’s founder, Poppy Szkiler, has also produced a very quiet film, in Pursuit of Silence, which explores how everyone can benefit from finding quieter times. Look out for it in cinemas across the UK from the end of October.

But more than anything, start becoming aware of the noise in your life. Doctors say starting to listen to noise, instead of just accepting it, is the first step towards controlling the noise in your life.

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