Body Mind & Spirit: Tapping Into the Restorative Benefits of Birdsong and How to Splurge on Happiness
Birdsong’s appeal may have something to do with its healing qualities, with research showing that most people experience it as restorative from psychological stress and attention fatigue. Photo: Simon D. Warren/Getty Images
From the healing qualities of birds and their soothing songs to the physical benefits of golf, discover new ways to cultivate health and happiness as you age.
Body: Fore the Win
Some of us need no excuse to go golfing — it’s Canada’s leading participation sport, with more than five million of us taking part. But for those who need cajoling onto a course, a study by the University of South Australia found it is associated with better physical and mental health — including for players with osteoarthritis (OA). Compared to 64 per cent of non-golfers with OA, 91 per cent rated their health as good to excellent. Golfers with OA were also three times less likely to report high levels of psychological distress.
Cause wasn’t explored in the study, but authors noted that golfers with OA logged, on average, four times more moderately vigorous physical activity per week than non-golfers with OA. That’s important, they say, because — along with aging — inactivity is a risk factor for the disease, most often accompanied by pain and stiffness of the joints.
With OA, cartilage breaks down faster than it can be repaired. Cartilage benefits from movement because only then does it compress, release and, like a sponge, absorb joint fluid from which it gets all its nutrients, explains Cynthia Roberts a physiotherapist with Arthritis Society Canada. She recommends low-impact exercise like walking, cycling, aquafit, tai chi and of course golf. “And what gets neglected — which is why I really like this study — is the emotional effect OA has,” she says. “Being in pain brings our mood down, and when we are low, mood-wise, our pain levels go up. Physical activity and socializing are great ways to break that cycle.” —Tara Losinski
Mind: Healing Birdsong
When John Neville, 79, steps into his garden on Salt Spring Island in B.C. on summer mornings, he enjoys the flute-like song of the resident Swainson’s thrush. “He’s carved out his territory here and sings to defend it,” explains Neville, who records and sells bird recordings (nevillerecording.com). Birdsong’s appeal may have something to do with its healing qualities, with research showing that most people experience it as restorative from psychological stress and attention fatigue.
A study by King’s College London tracked participants’ everyday encounters with birds and found that hearing or seeing birds improves mental well-being for up to eight hours, including among people with depression — which, for midlife or older adults, is associated with increased risk of cognitive impairment or dementia.
Birds Canada (birdscanada.org) provides opportunities to learn and participate, while the Toronto Ornithological Club (torontobirding.ca) offers free outings for members and the public. Jody Allair, director of community engagement at Birds Canada, recommends newbies begin with Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free Merlin Bird ID app, which lets users readily identify the birds singing around them. Birdsong for the Curious Naturalist by Donald Kroodsma is good for “people who are already nature-curious and want to tune into birdsong.” Neville has been captivated by birdsong since he was a kid, “lying in the grass and watching flocks of larks disappear into the sky and listening to that beautiful song.” —Judy Gerstel
Spirit: Worth a Fortune
Is Jeff Bezos, with a US$125-billion net worth, happy? He certainly looks happy these days. Could it be the US$500-million mega yacht, the curvy fiancée Lauren Sánchez or his own newly buff body?
There’s evidence that money can buy happiness. But it’s not a direct connection between huge fortunes and feeling upbeat. It’s what you buy and why you buy it that can bring happiness. A recent study by the British Psychological Society suggests that purchasing with a personal intrinsic goal in mind can be more soul satisfying.
Other studies show that we’re happier and more fulfilled when we spend money on experiences rather than possessions. And, just as with material goods, experiences that align with personal goals provide the greatest happiness. Travel to locales deemed must-see is less fulfilling than going to places that have special meaning for you, like an ancestral homeland. Giving money away brings the most happiness. Research shows that happier people report spending more money on others. Participants in one study were given $3 or $20 and randomly assigned to spend it on themselves or someone else. Those assigned to spend money on others consistently reported being happier than those who spent it on themselves.
So Bezos must be euphoric. He’s spending a fortune on Blue Origin, his space exploration company, with a personal goal to support a way for the solar system to home a trillion people – and he’s donated more than US$600 million to charity in his lifetime. —JG
Versions of this article appeared in the Aug/Sept 2023 issue with the headlines ‘Healing Birdsong’, p. 26, ‘For The Win’, p.28 and ‘Worth a Fortune’