A multi-million pound project to regenerate Glasgow’s Forth and Clyde Canal has had a “really big health impact” in the deprived areas it traverses, according to a new study.

Research suggests those living closest to the water in areas such as Maryhill and Possil may have reduced their risk of heart disease by 15 per cent.

The effects of increased exercise, better air quality and reduced stress have been cited as possible reasons, as well as an enhanced “sense of pride” in the living environment.

Data scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University examined the medical records of the city’s  two million population then honed in on the 137,032 people living within 1,400 metres of the canal in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation in the north. 

Records were examined from the millennium – before canal regeneration works got under way –  until 2018. 

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They found that people living within 700 metres of the canal and in the most deprived areas had a 15% lower risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, a stroke or hypertension in the years after improvements were made.

They had also lowered their risk of diabetes by 12% and obesity by 10%.

Around £500 million has been spent by Scottish Canals over the past 20 years to improve the waterway for public use with spin-off investment restoring buildings such as The Whisky Bond, and attracting housing developers. A dedicated watersports centre opened in 2014.

The positive effect on health was only observed in more deprived areas. 

Dr Zoë Tieges, lead author in the study, said they would expect to see similar results with developed green space, citing the amount of vacant and derelict land across the city.

“It’s a really big health impact – much bigger than I thought [it would be]", said Dr Tieges.


“One of the good things about canals is that they tend to run through the most deprived areas because of the role they had in industry. Before the regeneration the canal was a dump and depressing, but now it’s really improved a lot and is used for commuting and exercise.

“We would love to know which mechanisms are driving this association. There are some studies – and it’s also common sense – that show that blue space has a positive effect on physical activity.

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“We know that physical activity protects against cardiovascular disease and hypertension and obesity.

“The second thing is mental restoration or stress reduction. 

“We know that stress is an important risk factor for those diseases.


“The third is potentially social cohesion and a sense of pride in where we live. I think that deserves much more research. 

“We cannot show a causal link so it’s an association, but we think the canal regeneration will have something to do with it and we would expect similar results with green spaces.”

The regeneration of the canal aimed to reverse the neglect and decline the area had suffered over the past 50 years, including the depopulation by demolition of the Sighthill and Hamiltonhill housing estates.


The latest £7m regeneration phase has created an inner-city nature reserve with new paths, bridges and boardwalks, habitat improvement and viewing platforms. 

Researchers said they could not account for an individual’s deprivation status, adding that other factors may have played a role in improved health such as gentrification, level of education, income and employment.

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However, Dr Tieges said the study was an important “piece of the puzzle” in reducing health inequalities, which could have repercussions for other canal cities worldwide.

She said: “It will help the canal authorities to acquire further funding for these types of initiatives so I think that’s really important in Glasgow but also in other areas across the UK.”

She said further research, led by Scottish Canals, will try to find out which aspects of the canal regeneration may have had the greatest impact on health.

Catherine Topley, chief executive of Scottish Canals, said she hoped the study’s findings would “influence investment decisions”.

Previous research by the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice found that the regeneration of the canal was “prioritising higher-income newcomers” over the housing needs of long-term, low-income residents.