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The charity making life better by water

Going with the flow

Study shows the blend of blue and green space at former industrial canals helps boost your mood.

Urban mind, citizen science in action
  • Time spent by canals and rivers is associated with better mental wellbeing and this association is stronger compared to environments that have greenspaces alone
  • Modern-day canals offer wellbeing for millions of people in our towns and cities
  • The powerful mix of blue, green and wildlife-rich space shows that although built for industry, repurposed canals are amongst our most important places for health and wellbeing in our towns and cities.

What did we find?

The results of a real time study, the first of its type, carried out by King's College London, Nomad Projects and J & L Gibbons in partnership with us, shows that spending time by canals and rivers is linked to feeling happy and healthy.

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 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, or outside in an urban environment, or near green spaces).

Social prescribing

Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health, King's College London, commented: “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.”

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.

An important place for health and wellbeing

Richard Parry, our chief executive, 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 initially built for industry, repurposed canals are today amongst our most important places for health and wellbeing in our towns and cities.

“With the 250-year-old canal network vulnerable to climate change, keeping them safe and attractive requires significant ongoing expenditure and – to retain these benefits – it is vital that the necessary funding to maintain their condition is secured.”

Find your happy place

Dr Amir Khan, our Ambassador stated: “As a GP and nature lover, it's great to see that scientific studies have confirmed what many of us intuitively knew: 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.”

Last Edited: 01 September 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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