After three weeks walking the John Muir Trail in California I know I feel fitter and stronger, but could I also be smarter? Just possibly, according to this article on Lifehack. The author quotes several recent scientific studies.

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

Or how about this:

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information. Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection.

Most of us probably feel stressed in noisy environments. But getting away from noise (on one of our guided walks, for instance) not only lowers stress, it allows us to tune in to other signals:

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech.

And if you’re tempted to try and chill out with your favourite tunes, science has something to say about that too. Even “relaxing music” doesn’t release stress as effectively as simple silence.

Less stress, more brain cells. Enjoy the silence!