LONDON – Walking along a canal or riverbank could improve your mental health, according to new research. The mix of blue and green spaces relieves anxiety and relieves stress, according to a team from King’s College London.
A study in nearly 300 people found that walks along bodies of water led to significant improvements in well-being and mood. Of the 299 participants, 87 were living with mental illness.
The study also conducted and reviewed around 8,000 assessments using Urban Mind, a smartphone app that examines the impact of different aspects of the environment.
“Canals and rivers not only contain water, but also an abundance of trees and plants, meaning their ability to improve mental well-being is likely due to the multiple benefits associated with green and blue spaces. “says Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health at King’s College London, in a Press release.
“Canals and rivers are also home to a range of wildlife, and we know from other research that there is a positive association between wildlife encounters and mental well-being. Taken collectively, these findings provide an evidence base for what we think about water and well-being and supports the proposition that canal and river tours could form part of social prescription programs, playing a role in supporting mental health .
Nature has a powerful impact on the human body
Studies continue to show that spending time in nature is good for people in many ways. The latest analysis is the first to look specifically at blue spaces. The volunteers were asked to perform a momentary ecological assessment three times a day for 14 days.
“Once the arteries of the Industrial Revolution, canals today play such an important role in society as green corridors that bring nature to cities, improve community well-being and tackle inequalities in health, while supporting jobs and local economies,” says Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust.
“The powerful mix of blue, green and wildlife-rich spaces shows that, although built for industry, redeveloped canals are in fact among our most important places of health and well-being in our cities and towns. “
In England and Wales alone, people have access to a network of over 2,000 miles of canals and rivers that connect urban and rural areas.
“An astonishing nine million people live within a mile 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 simply being a place to hang out with family and friends, I really urge everyone to find their #HappyPlaceByWater this summer,” says Canal & River Trust Ambassador Dr. Amir Khan.
“Yet at present the mental health benefits of canals and rivers remain speculative given their limited evidence base. To overcome this limitation, we adapted a smartphone application (app) that has already been used to explore the effects of the urban environment on well-being, to specifically assess the impact of visiting canals and rivers on self-reported mental well-being, a strong predictor of mental health in the general population” , write the researchers in the journal PLOS ONE.
People also feel more connected through water
The study also gathered detailed information about individuals, allowing researchers to explore how the impact of visiting canals and rivers depends on characteristics such as age, gender or diagnosis of mental illness.
“A better understanding of the effects of these characteristics is essential for planning and designing urban and rural environments that support the mental well-being of all citizens,” the study authors state.
The study authors measured the impact of visits to Blue Spaces by asking participants if they were currently outdoors and specifying the type of location they were in. Participants also indicated whether they had visited a blue space in the past 24 hours. The team measured current mental well-being using 10 questions to identify levels of confidence, happiness, energy, anxiety, loneliness and fatigue.
“Compared to anywhere else, participants were more likely to report feeling safe day and night, as well as feeling socially included when visiting canals and rivers. Additionally, they were more likely to describe the surrounding environment as beautiful, historic, peaceful, and inspiring,” the study authors report. “In contrast, participants were less likely to refer to the surrounding environment using negative terms such as ugly , uninteresting, dirty and dull when visiting canals and rivers.”
“More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, a proportion that is expected to increase rapidly in the coming years. Cities are increasingly densified and designed with an increasing trend towards high-rise buildings and a commensurate decrease in green space. People living in cities may not have easy access to blue spaces such as seas, oceans, lakes and ponds. Urban waterways (canals and rivers) provide essential access to nature in the urban environment. Our results suggest that spending time near canals and rivers is associated with better mental well-being,” the team concludes.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.