For decades, the Clyde and Forth Canal was a place to be avoided.

Neglected and decaying following its closure in 1963, the disused waterway was viewed as a hazard and calls were made for it to be filled in.

But after millions of pounds of investment, the canal was regenerated and re-opened in 2001 as part of the Millennium Link project.

It is now a vibrant urban water space serving the communities of north Glasgow, and newly published research shows just how beneficial it has been to the area.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University have found that the death rate in neighbouring communities has lowered since the canal was regenerated.

The groundbreaking findings, which are the first of their kind globally, also show that the waterway has helped to reduce the gap between deprived and affluent communities and has had a positive impact on health.

Joe Fitzpatrick, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, said: “Access to outdoor space for recreation and physical activity is essential for our health and wellbeing.

“Scotland’s canals are a great asset and I welcome this research from Glasgow Caledonian University that suggests that canal regeneration in North Glasgow has been associated with a positive impact on health, health inequalities and a long-term reduction in mortality rates for communities living nearby.”

The research, facilitated by the Data Lab, looked at the north Glasgow area, one of the Europe’s most deprived locations, over a 17-year period while the canal was being regenerated.

It revealed a faster rate of decline (3 per cent annually) in mortality rates in urban areas close to the canal, compared to areas further away, and highlighted the significant physical and mental wellbeing benefits of investing in the regeneration of city waterways.

While further research is needed to ascertain which specific parts of the regeneration have been most effective, it is hoped the study will guide future development of inland waterways across the world.

Sebastien Chastin, Professor in Health Behaviour Dynamics at Glasgow Caledonian University, who led the research, said: “The world is becoming increasingly urban and this poses serious challenges, not only for our health but also the climate.

“Most cities in the world are built around water whether this is canals, rivers or coasts and these blue spaces are underused assets for public health.

“Our research focused on north Glasgow as this is one of the areas in Europe with a unique concentration of health issues and health inequalities.

“Furthermore, 18 years ago the waterways around Glasgow were entirely derelict and so we were able to track their effect on local people, from full disuse to full regeneration over almost two decades.

“This study demonstrates that urban blue spaces, when they are developed, invested in and properly managed, can have a substantial impact on population health around the world as the model is replicable in most cities elsewhere.”

The Forth and Clyde Canal first opened in 1790, providing a route for boats between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.

Trade began to fall away following the Second World War and in 1963 the canal closed to through traffic.

For years it was left in a poor state until a conservation group – the

Forth and Clyde Canal Society – began to take an interest, cleaning up the canal and petitioning for it to be regenerated.

This helped to secure lottery funding for the restoration, leading to the waterway re-opening in 2001.

Catherine Topley, chief executive officer of Scottish Canals, said: “This exciting new research shows that investment which has transformed the Forth & Clyde Canal in north Glasgow has also had a major impact on the health and wellbeing of people who live near the water.

“Canal authorities around the world, from the United States to China and Europe, have all been trying to understand the relationship between regenerating our inland waterways and people’s health.

“We are delighted that Scotland now has the knowledge which can be exported to colleagues internationally, demonstrating once again that Scotland’s canals are at the forefront of innovation.”