Visiting canals and rivers ‘can help boost mood’

Visiting a canal or river when you are feeling down could be just the pick up you need, a new study suggests.

According to the research, the combination of blue and green space with wildlife has a greater impact on wellbeing than spending time in an environment with only green space.

Researchers used the phone app Urban Mind to collect thousands of real time responses about people’s location and mental wellbeing.

The findings of the first-of-its-kind study suggested positive associations between visits to canals and rivers and mental wellbeing.

It also found 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 spaces without water.

Andrea Mechelli, professor of early intervention in mental health at King’s College London, 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 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.”

A paddleboarder enjoys the sun on the River Wharfe near Otley in West Yorkshire
A paddleboarder enjoys the sun on the River Wharfe near Otley in West Yorkshire (PA)

Researchers found time spent near canals and rivers was associated with a greater improvement in mental wellbeing.

This relationship was still present when factors like age, gender, education and diagnosis of a mental health condition were accounted for.

The improvements continued for up to 24 hours after a visit.

Dr Amir Khan, Canal & River trust ambassador, 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 wellbeing.”

He added that around nine million people live within 1km of a waterway owned and managed by the trust in England and Wales, and urged people to find a happy place by the water this summer.

The study, carried out by King’s College London, Nomad Projects and J & L Gibbons in partnership with the Canal & River Trust, is published in the Plos One journal.