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The mental health benefits of visiting canals and rivers: An ecological momentary assessment study

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Nicol Bergou, Ryan Hammoud, Jo Gibbons, Neil Davidson, Stefania Tognin, Graeme Reeves, Jenny Shepherd, Andrea Mechelli

Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS One
Accepted/In press28 Jun 2022

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Abstract

Existing evidence shows positive effects of being in nature on wellbeing, but we know little about the mental health benefits of spending time near canals and rivers specifically. This study investigates the association between visits to canals and rivers and mental wellbeing. We addressed the following questions: Are visits to canals and rivers associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing? Does this association depend on age and gender? Does this association vary between people with and without a diagnosis on mental illness?

We used Urban Mind, a flexible smartphone application for examining the impact of different aspects of the built and social environment on mental wellbeing, a strong predictor of mental health. Participants were invited to complete an ecological momentary assessment three times a day for fourteen days. Each assessment included questions about their surrounding environment and mental wellbeing. A total of 7,975 assessments were completed by 299 participants including 87 with a diagnosis of mental illness. Multilevel regression models were used to analyse the data.
We found positive associations between visits to canals and rivers and mental wellbeing (p<.05) when compared to being anywhere else and when compared to being in green spaces. Increases in mental wellbeing were still evident after the visit had taken place. These effects remained significant after adjusting for age, gender, ethnicity and education, and were consistent in people with and without a diagnosis of mental illness.

Spending time near canals and rivers is associated with better mental wellbeing. These findings have potential implications for mental health as well as urban planning and policy. Visits to canals and rivers could become part of social prescribing schemes, playing a role in preventing mental health difficulties and complementing more traditional interventions.

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