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The charity making life better by water

Proof that time by water boosts your wellbeing

Exciting new research shows that our canals and rivers are amongst the most important places to visit to improve your health and wellbeing.

Spending time by water improves your mental wellbeing Spending time by water improves your mental wellbeing

We're thrilled (albeit not all that surprised) that science is backing up what we've always believed to be true - that spending time by water is good for your mental health.

In a first-of-its-kind study, participants associated an increase in mental wellbeing for up to 24 hours when visiting our canals and rivers. This association was stronger compared to time spent at outside green spaces, such as parks and fields, where there was no presence of water.

A increased sense of safety and social inclusion was also expressed as a result of time spent at our wonderful blue and green spaces.

Canal walks in Berkhamsted Canal walks in Berkhamsted

Gathering the data

Across the UK, people of varying age, ethnicity, gender and background were asked to document in real-time the locations and their state of wellbeing via the Urban Mind mobile app, for two weeks.

Researchers at King's College London, Nomad Projects and J & L Gibbons then crunched the data.

Results showed that being by water left people feeling happier and healthier, and that this connection was stronger than time spent in an environment that is characterised by only green space.

Two adults with their arms around each other as they walk along a canal lock in Birmingham. Two adults with their arms around each other as they walk along a canal lock in Birmingham.

A perfect blend of land, water and wildlife

Andrea Mechelli is professor of early intervention in mental health at King's College. He believes that these results come down to the unique mix of land, water and wildlife that our waterways offer.

He said: "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 intuitively 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."

Feeding ducks Feeding ducks

Doctor's orders

An advocate of prescribing a daily dose of your local canal is one of our celebrity ambassador, TV's Dr Amir Khan.

In response to the findings, Dr Khan said: "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 health and wellbeing.

Bradford GP and best-selling author Dr Amir Khan

"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."

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This project was supported by players of People's Postcode Lottery.

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Last Edited: 16 May 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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