If you live in an urban environment — or even a busy suburban area — you know that pollution is just something you have to live with every day. While air pollution and trash blowing down the street pose threats to us and our environment, there is another type of pollution that you may be ignoring: noise pollution. According to experts, the everyday noise we’re exposed to by living in congested areas wreaks havoc on our hearts in ways we may not realize.
The threat of noise pollution
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20 percent of diseases in Europe are caused by environmental factors. Such factors include sanitization, water quality, waste disposal, outdoor air pollution, indoor air pollution, and — you guessed it — noise pollution. Whether we realize it or not, the noises inherent to living in the city contribute to our stress levels and are therefore a contributor to cardiovascular disease (CVD).
In fact, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) has found, “Air and noise pollution are environmental health risks with a wide-ranging impact on CVD, the primary cause of death in Europe, killing over four million people yearly.” In response, the ESC launched its Environment & the Heart Campaign to “raise awareness about the need to create healthy environments for the protection of heart health and to encourage policymakers’ action.” The campaign is timely, with the UN Climate Change conference coming to Paris, November 30 through December 11.
Noise pollution comes from several different sources. In a review study published in Noise & Health in 2004, researchers from the Federal Environmental Agency in Berlin, Germany, stated that persistent environmental noise “over prolonged periods of time is to be regarded as causing distress” to individuals. Such sources of environmental noise include traffic flow, trains, music from neighboring buildings and passing cars, people on the street, certain appliances, sirens, alarms and much more. These noises immediately trigger the fight-or-flight response within the brain, elevating your heart rate, sending stress hormones coursing through your body and generally disrupting the homeostasis that the body naturally seeks.
“There is increasing evidence that air and road traffic noise might be related to high blood pressure,” Stephen Stansfeld, professor of psychiatry at Barts and the London School of Medicine, told The Guardian. “Exposure in school to aircraft noise is also linked to reading impairment in children,” he said. According to Cornell University, even the noise pollution we’re exposed to in open office environments elevates the production of stress hormones, and stress has long been understood as a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease.
How to protect yourself from noise pollution
Since noise pollution causes stress, managing the amount of noise we’re exposed to is an important step towards living healthier. In order to do so, we can physically block sounds out by shielding our homes from extra noise. According to The Guardian, John Hilton, president of the U.K.’s Institute of Acoustics, suggests, “For noisy streets, try thermal double glazing” for windows. Secondary glazing or an extra pane of glass can help reduce noise coming from airplanes and traffic. If you share a wall with particularly noisy neighbors, consider draping the wall with floor-to-ceiling curtains; the fabric will serve to absorb the sound.
Other noise-related concerns don’t come from traffic or noisy neighbors. Be sure to protect your ears from loud environments like clubs and concert halls, and limit the amount of time you wear earbuds. Experts recommend investing in noise-cancelling headphones so you can listen to your tunes at a lower volume to preserve the integrity of the inner ear.
Finally, take some time to disconnect. Relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga can prove to be very beneficial for people with and without CVD. Both practices train the mind and the body to relax, bringing us back to the level-headed and relaxed state our bodies crave.
However you choose to protect your health and manage stress, remember to take noise pollution into consideration. It’s so constant that we don’t think we hear it anymore, but your brain and your heart are acutely aware of it, and noise may be killing you slowly.
How do you cope with noise pollution?
Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.