Scotland's canals can be beautiful and they can also help us stay healthy – Scotsman comment

New research showing that people who live near a canal are less likely to develop several chronic diseases is the latest evidence that nature is good for us.

Canals are more than just waterways for boats (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Canals are more than just waterways for boats (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University looked at the medical records of more than 130,000 people living within 1,400 metres of the Forth and Clyde Canal in deprived areas of Glasgow.

They found that those within 700 metres of the canal had a 15 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke or hypertension, and were also less likely to have diabetes (by 12 per cent) or be obese (10 per cent).

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Dr Zoe Tieges, who led the study, said their findings suggested living near canals and other such “blue infrastructure” was associated with a lower risk for non-communicable diseases in the most deprived areas. “We concluded that exposure to canals could be used to mitigate urban health inequalities.”

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This adds to a growing weight of evidence that natural environments can improve our health. So significant is the effect that, in 2018, doctors in Shetland pioneered the prescribing of nature – going birdwatching, rambling or for beach walks – as part of treatment for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stress and mental ill-health.

Such trends are, in a way, a return to the wisdom of the ancients. Hippocrates, famed as at least the inspiration for the Hippocratic Oath, recognised the beneficial effects on the mind of getting out the house.

Demonstrating he had a sense of humour, he reputedly said: “If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.”

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