City noise and body rhythms


We tend to think of noisy places as ‘fast’ and quiet places as ‘slow’. There’s a rather obvious reason for this: motion – from cars, tube trains, hordes of commuters – usually generates noise. Other kinds of noise, though, have nothing to do with movement. A pub packed with people shouting to be heard above the music might still feel like a ‘fast place’, even if there’s no moving about in the crowd.

Perhaps one reason we connect speed with sound levels is because of the effect noise has on our bodies. I was interested to read about a recent study which found that noisy cities disrupt heartbeat. People were asked to wear heart monitor sensors while they went shopping in Nottingham. The results showed that rapid changes in noise disrupted their normal heart rhythms. It’s possible, then, that noisy places feel ‘fast’ because they make our hearts beat faster.

We explore how London’s different sounds and speeds affect us on London In Slow Motion and The London Ear. You’ll find dates for these and all our tours on our walks calendar.

Image: ‘Tube train’ by Cyril Power, circa 1934