Researchers report that the combination of blue and green space with wildlife has a greater impact on wellbeing than spending time in an environment that is characterised by only green space.
The researchers used Urban Mind, a smartphone-based app, to collect thousands of real time audits about participants’ location and mental wellbeing.
Results from this first of its kind study showed positive associations between visits to canals and rivers and mental wellbeing, as well as a positive experience for feelings of safety and social inclusion relative to all other types of environments (such as indoors, outside in an urban environment, or near green spaces).
The study is part funded by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
Canals and rivers contain not only water but also an abundance of trees and plants, which means their capacity to improve mental wellbeing is likely to be due to the multiple benefits associated with both green and blue spaces. Canals and rivers also provide homes to a range of wildlife, and we know from other research that there is a positive association between encountering wildlife and mental wellbeing. Taken collectively, these findings provide an evidence base for what we thought about water and wellbeing and support the proposal that visits to canals and rivers could become part of social prescribing schemes, playing a role in supporting mental health.– Professor Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health at King’s IoPPN and the study's senior author
The study found that visiting canals and rivers was associated with a greater improvement in mental wellbeing, and this relationship was still present when accounting for individual variation due to age, gender, education, ethnicity, and a diagnosis of a mental health condition. People also reported continued improvements in their mental wellbeing for up to 24 hours after the visit had taken place.
Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, responded:
“Once the arteries of the Industrial Revolution, canals are today playing an equally important role in society as green corridors that bring nature into cities, improving community wellbeing and tackling health inequalities, as well as supporting jobs and local economies.
“The powerful mix of blue, green and wildlife-rich space shows that although built for industry, repurposed canals are actually amongst our most important places of health and wellbeing in our towns and cities.
“With the 250-year-old canal network vulnerable to climate change, keeping them safe and attractive places requires significant ongoing expenditure and – to retain these benefits – it is vital that the necessary funding to maintain their condition is secured.”
Dr Amir Khan, Canal & River Trust Ambassador stated:
“As a GP and nature lover, it’s great to see that scientific studies have confirmed what many of us intuitively knew already: that spending time by water, and canals in particular, is good for your wellbeing.
“An astonishing nine million people live within 1km of a canal and whether you’re looking for a free alternative to the gym, a car-free commute to work or the shops, or perhaps just somewhere to hang out with family or friends, I really do urge everyone to find their #HappyPlaceByWater this summer.”
For further information on how you can find, and enjoy your local canal, including information on the fantastic places to visit, go to www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/happyplacebywater.
The study "The mental health benefits of visiting canals and rivers: An ecological momentary assessment study" was published in PLOS ONE.
For more information, please email Alex Booth, Communications and Engagement Manager at the NIHR Maudsley BRC.