Living Near Water Could Boost Your Wellbeing

Study shows that blue spaces are naturally calming.

Spending time in nature is good for mental health.

(Levranii /

Being in green spaces and connecting with nature is good for your physical and mental health. In Japanese natural healing, forest bathing has been used to decrease stress, anxiety, and even to treat mild depression.

Now, scientists have discovered that blue spaces – natural waterways – are also connected to better mental health. A population based study published in Scientific Reports looked at the effect of urban waterways on mental health and found that proximity to water increased positive feelings of wellbeing.

“If you are in a body of water, your internal state just becomes calm,” Dr Natalie Azar, NBC News medical contributor, told TODAY. "It's something that I think we've all experienced, but we've never really been intentional about."

Just being near water could boost mental health
Being near water gives people a sense of awe, reported TODAY, because it gives people a consciousness of something greater than themselves. The sounds and movement of water gets people to focus their attention – like meditation – and this invites calm.

You do not have to go to the coast to experience this wellbeing, said Azar, any waterway will do, including lakes, rivers, canals, or ponds. Even a flowing fountain will work.

A new study conducted by King’s College London also proved that spending time near urban canals and rivers is linked to feeling happy and healthy, stressed a press release from the college. The researchers used Urban Mind, a smartphone app to collect real-time data about the participants location and wellbeing.

A combination of green spaces and blue spaces
While the results showed a positive association between being near canals and rivers and mental wellbeing, there was also a surprise twist. The study also found that urban waterways were superior to feelings of wellbeing than just being near the ocean.

“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, Andrea Mechelli, professor of early intervention in mental health at King’s College, said in the press release.

 “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”

These results are very promising because in England and Wales, people have access to 3218 kilometers (2,000 miles) of rivers and canals that are readily accessible. In fact, 9 million people live within 1 km of a canal; something that is easily walkable.

The study also found that there were continuous improvements to mental wellbeing for up to 24 hours after visiting urban waterways. This is all good news for urban dwellers. The availability of spaces to be in nature – both green and blue – will help calm their anxiety, stress, and help boost mental health.

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