Cut through the noise for optimal health

06.25.15 |

Every small choice makes a difference

One of the foundational ideas of the Habits of Health is that every choice you make in your daily life can contribute to health or contribute to disease. One visit to a fast-food restaurant will not destroy your health, but if you develop a lifestyle where fast-food is your go-to choice multiple times a week, those many little choices accumulate to form potentially big consequences.

For many people, choices related to eating healthy foods or exercising more have a relatively clear connection to health. Other small choices, however, might not be so obvious.

Stressful environments can impact your health

Noise, for example, can affect your quest for vibrant, lasting health.

As passive as subjecting yourself to noise might seem, loud sounds from traffic, construction, and even high-volume music in your ear buds can lead to an overactive your immune system, as can noisy distractions when you’re trying to concentrate. I wrote about this topic in Dr. A’s Habits of Health in 2008, based on some early research into the topic and what the medical community already knew about how stressful environments potentially impacted our health.

When we are over-stimulated, our survival response can go off far more often than it really needs too.

A new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests a relationship between living in areas with noisy road traffic and a lower life expectancy as well as a greater risk of stroke, confirming what many in the medical community suspected already. In terms of hard data, the researchers found that traffic noise above 60 dB contributed to a 4% greater risk of mortality.

It’s important to note here that the study authors clearly say that the relationship between noise and longevity can be classified as causal link rather than an unrelated factor that also happens to divide people who live in loud areas versus quieter ones. Given what we already know about how our bodies react to noise, however, these findings are not surprising.
Biologically, we are built to react to sudden or loud noises. Perhaps one of our children is starting to cry or perhaps a predator stepped on a twig a few feet behind us. In fact, many stressful situations are tied to loud noises—yelling in anger, crying out for help, squealing in pain. There’s a reason we jump when a door slams unexpectedly: the noise triggers our survival response, which in turn causes our body to release chemicals that make us more alert and support or instincts to fight or flee.

When we are over-stimulated, our survival response can go off far more often than it really needs too.
As a result, according to the authors of the study cited earlier, our health suffers in the following ways:

  • Our blood pressure increases
  • Our stress levels rise
  • We struggle to get restful sleep

While high blood pressure itself is a serious health concern, the consequences of more stress and less sleep can echo throughout our health in a number of ways, harming everything from our relationships to our ability to control our appetites.

Tips to help with a noisy environment

If part or most of your day involves living or working in a noisy environment, consider the following tips:

  • Use foam ear-plugs or noise cancelling headphones to help you focus more during the day and to sleep more restfully at night.
  • Shorten your commute by moving closer to your job, commuting at less busy times of the day, or requesting to work from home once or twice a week.
  • Explore your options for increasing the insulation in your home to better drown-out street noise, especially in your bedroom.
  • Listen to soft, soothing music at a reasonable volume to replace stressful stimulation with something more comforting.
  • Consider moving to a quieter neighborhood or away from major thorough-fairs.
  • If escaping the noise permanently is not an option, find a quiet place in your neighborhood or community where you can pause and reflect once a day or more, perhaps in a park.

As we have talked about before, your environment matters. The environment you choose to exist in everyday can influence your health goals for better or for worse, so take charge of your life and build the kind of health bubble that helps you be the best person possible.