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Visits to canals make people feel healthy and happy

A new study from Kings College London confirms that spending time by rivers and canals can enhance your sense of well-being. The experts have found that the combination of blue space and green space is more effective in making people feel happy and healthy than green space alone. 

In partnership with the Canal & River Trust, the researchers used data from a smartphone-based app called Urban Mind. The team analyzed thousands of entries about the participants’ location and mental well-being.

The results showed that visits to canals and rivers boosted mental well-being and feelings of safety and social inclusion.

According to Professor Andrea Mechelli, canals and rivers contain not only water but also an abundance of trees and plants, which means their capacity to improve mental well-being 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 well-being,” said Professor Mechelli.

“Taken collectively, these findings provide an evidence base for what we thought about water and well-being 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 participants reported that they experienced improvements in their mental well-being for up to 24 hours after their visits. 

“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,” said Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust.

“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.”

“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 well-being,” said Dr. Amir Khan, Canal & River Trust Ambassador.

“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.”

The study was partially funded by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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