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Water, Wildlife, and Greenery Are Great for Wellness

The combination of green and blue is good for your health.

Key points

  • Nature is really good for your mental health and well-being
  • You can access green and blue spaces even in urban environments.
  • A Green Prescription allows health care professionals to support your physical and mental health.
Brian van den Heuvel / Pexels
Source: Brian van den Heuvel / Pexels

There are plenty of studies that highlight just how good green spaces, such as parks and forests, and blue spaces, such as oceans and lakes, are for our mental health but, a recent study has shown how putting the two together really can make us feel happier. 1

And adding fauna to the equation makes us feel even better.

The research, from King’s College London, showed that walking along a canal or riverbank had a significant positive impact on anxiety and stress levels and led to improvements in well-being and mood.

The study involved nearly 300 people, 87 of which were living with a mental illness. The study also reviewed 8,000 assessments using Urban Mind, a smartphone app that examines the impact of different aspects of the environment.

“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,” said Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health at King’s College London.

The study suggests that it’s not only the water and the greenery that improve our mood but our encounters with the birds and animals along the way. “We know from our research that there is a positive association between encountering wildlife and mental well-being,” said Mechelli.

Green and blue spaces put us back in touch with nature which, in turn, lifts our mood. Which makes sense when you think about it. In terms of human evolution, we have spent most of our 200,000 years or so on this planet living alongside nature. Urban living is modern. Like, really, really modern. Even our oldest cities are only around 6,000 years old. And it is only in the last decade or so, according to figures from the UN Population Division, that we have become a majority-urban species. And we haven’t adapted yet. There’s even a term for our love of and affinity with Mother Nature, biophilia. Biologist Edward O. Wilson came up with this phrase and its attendant hypothesis in 1984. He reckons that the environment in which we early humans evolved has shaped our brains to respond positively to cues that would have enhanced our survival—forests, lakes, savannahs, and so on—and that we are still responding to those cues today.

Studies show that being in nature not only has positive effects on depression and anxiety and other mood disorders, but also improves sleep, reduces stress, and increases happiness. People who live near the coast consistently report higher life satisfaction and well-being levels than those who don’t.

Another benefit of living near to, or making the effort to engage with, nature regularly is that it also improves your physical health.

The benefits of green and blue spaces are so significant that psychiatrists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals are turning to what is known as green prescribing as a way of fixing our ills. This is a system whereby professionals can connect the people they are supporting with a range of non-clinical (and, more importantly, physically, and mentally healthy) sources in the local community. Green prescribing can include but is not limited to, fishing, gardening, going for walks in the park or nearby woods, hiking, visiting a beach, and more.

"What about us city folk?”

Well, fret not, as things are not as concrete as they seem. 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. In fact, around nine million people live within one kilometre of a canal.

Don’t wait for a GP to prescribe it to you. Seek out your nearest canal or urban riverbank today. Your physical and mental health will thank you for it.



More from Daniel Fryer M.Sc., MBSCH
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