Let There Be Quiet! How Noise Affects Health

Did you know that noise powerfully affects your health? We are surrounded by noise in various degrees, however, I realized the impact it has in a personal way recently. Several weeks ago, I met my oldest son, Chris, in New York City, where he works. We were going to take the train from there to his apartment just outside the city. We walked around for about an hour. We were assaulted constantly by voices, horns honking, air planes flying overhead, cars, trucks, jackhammers, sirens and who-knows-what-else! After several minutes I realized I had unconsciously tensed up and felt vaguely anxious. When we reached his neighborhood, the difference was dramatic! It was still more of a "city" area than upstate NY where I live, but it was so much quieter. Almost immediately I felt myself relax a bit!

We are so used to being surrounded by sound some of us cannot stand to be without some type of noise - whether it's the television or radio in the background, a CD or static and nature sounds from a "white noise" machine. If you pay attention, you'll find there are very few (if any) places where you escape intentional sound - stores, doctor/dentist offices, restaurants, gas stations, public rest rooms - they all seem to have music piped in.

So how does all this sound affect your health? There is growing evidence that noise-related stress poses a significant health hazard. It's no surprise that repeated exposure to loud noise can damage your hearing. Even being exposed to the loud music at one rock concert can cause hearing loss. According to the World Health Organization, unwanted noise causes hearing impairment including tinnitus, disturbs sleep and triggers stress hormones, which in turn affect the immune and digestive systems. Constant exposure to noise increases risk for heart attack or stroke and can even be a factor in high blood pressure.

You may find these results of some studies to be interesting:

In an office environment, low-level noise can make it difficult to focus and stay motivated; in fact, those who used a white noise machine (to help cancel out background noise) performed better on tests. Noise reduces problem-solving ability, increases frustration and irritability (as I experienced on my trip to the city!).

Noise actually increases the desire to eat! Behavioral research shows that people inundated by noise at work during the week are more apt to overeat - even on the weekends. A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology indicated that women who are exposed to high levels of noise tend to eat more high-carb snacks. (Could this be part of the reason behind your inability to lose weight?)

One German study connected chronic noise exposure to an increased risk of heart attack, particularly in men.

We see many scriptures that speak about the importance of quiet - living a quiet life (1 Thessalonians 4:11); working in a quiet environment (Ecclesiastes 4:6) eating in peace and quiet (Proverbs 17:1). Our modern life is steeped in constant motion and sound and the resulting stress is damaging our health as well as our relationships.

We've gotten too far from the life the Lord intended us to live. But what can we do?
Here are a few suggestions:

Turn off everything that makes noise in your environment - radio, TV, cell phones, iPods, CD players and allow the soothing quiet to envelope and calm you. You may be surprised by how difficult you find being in total quiet initially. Begin by spending the first part of your day in quiet prayer and meditation (which we'll discuss in upcoming newsletters!).

Especially during mealtimes, turn off the noise and concentrate on enjoying your meal. Eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly, enjoy leisurely, pleasant conversation with your family (no arguments or rehashing of the day's problems), really observe, smell and taste your food, savor it - all without stress-inducing noise that can cause all sorts of digestive problems.

While many people enjoy using headphones while they exercise, studies actually show that by concentrating on your breathing and the feeling of your muscles moving, thinking about the results of your efforts (strengthening your legs, slimming your middle, etc.) actually increased the results of your efforts. If walking is your exercise, try just walking in quiet and communing with the Lord instead of listening to teaching tapes or music. Those are not "bad" things to do, but you need some time with no stimulation. The same is true when you are driving. While I like listening to teaching tapes or worship music, I try to take some of my driving time and just travel in blessed quiet!

Spend time outdoors - walking, gardening, exercising, playing a sport or with your children, read or just sit and enjoy a beautiful day. Listen to the birds and enjoy God's creation. Practice being quiet - you'll reap many benefits!

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