We live in a loud world where TV, music, and smartphones fill the void with white noise. Silence and solitude are broken by the buzz of technology while we call, text, and email to feel less alone. However, how often do we take the time to sit and enjoy silence?
Silence and solitude give us the space to think, act, and play "catch up" with our mind, and can be very healthy for our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s time to go to our quiet and peaceful place, and feed our mind and body so we can reap these five benefits, backed by science.
Going for a walk in the park alone can cause brain growth in the hippocampus, leading to better memory. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week for a year had brain growth in the hippocampus — an area of the brain associated with spatial memory. Immersing ourselves in nature helps the brain to focus and have better memory consolidation.
Stimulates Brain Growth
Sitting in silence could also boost grain growth by creating new cells. A 2013 study published in the journal Brain Structure and Function found at least two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region. This is essential since the hippocampus is linked to our ability to learn, remember things, and even our emotions.
Noise has a pronounced physical effect on the brain, which can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones. This happens when sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear, which then causes the body to react to these signals. The amygdala — associated with memory formation and emotion — is activated, and this leads to the release of stress hormones.
A 2006 study in Heart found silence can release tension in the brain and body in just two minutes. Researchers found it was more relaxing than listening to "relaxing" music. This was based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.
Spending a few minutes a day in silence can lead to improved sleep, especially for insomniacs. A 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found older adults who had trouble sleeping experienced less insomnia, fatigue, and depression after doing mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on our breathing and then bringing our mind’s attention to the present without thinking about the past or the future. It helps to break the train of everyday thoughts to provoke a relaxation response.
There are retreats that promote the power of silence by refraining from reading, writing, or eye contact. One hundred scientists went on a retreat for research and found shutting off speech heightens awareness in other areas. They practiced the technique of vipassana meditation, which promotes overall wellbeing. This begins with breathing, which is then transferred to sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, intentions, and emotions.