Lifecourse of Place

How environments throughout life can support healthy ageing

With the proportion of older adults increasing across the world, population-wide healthy ageing is an increasingly important research priority with significant implications for policymakers working in this area. Emerging evidence shows that the places where people live and grow older can support healthy ageing, and the impact of places varies across the lifecourse. However, it is less well established how social and physical environmental exposures “get under the skin” to affect cellular ageing and become embodied in human health.

The aim of this project is to examine whether and how exposure to green space, air pollution and area-level deprivation in childhood, adulthood and old age affects healthy ageing. It makes use of unique longitudinal data from the Lothian Birth Cohort, following adults born in 1936 in the area around Edinburgh, Scotland. Measures of environmental exposure in the participants’ residential area throughout their life were collected from historical records, while local measures of air pollution across the 20th century were calculated using atmospheric chemistry transport models. We will use markers of healthy ageing that were captured in late adulthood with cognitive assessments (e.g. processing speed, verbal memory), brain imaging (e.g. total brain volume) and with indicators of biological ageing (e.g. telomere length).

This interdisciplinary project runs from September 2020 for 24 months and involves expertise from human geography, psychology, epidemiology and landscape architecture, includes partners from policy and advocacy, and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative.

Earlier work from the research team

Cherrie, M., Shortt, N., Ward Thompson, C., Deary, I. & Pearce, J. 2019. Association between the activity space exposure to parks in childhood and adolescence and cognitive aging in later life. IJERPH 16(4), 632; doi:10.3390/ijerph16040632

Neale, C., Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Coyne, R., Mavros, P., Tilley, S., Thin, N., Cinderby, S., & Ward Thompson, C. 2019. The impact of walking in different urban environments on brain activity in older people. Cities and Health 4:1, 94-106, doi: 10.1080/23748834.2019.1619893

Pearce J, Cherrie M, Shortt N, Deary I, Ward Thompson C. Life course of place: A longitudinal study of mental health and place. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2018;43:555-572.

Cherrie MPC, Shortt NK, Mitchell RJ, et al. Green space and cognitive ageing: A retrospective life course analysis in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. Soc Sci Med. 2018;196:56-65.

Cox SR, Ritchie SJ, Tucker-Drob EM, et al. Ageing and brain white matter structure in 3,513 UK Biobank participants. Nat Commun. 2016;7:13629.

Pearce JR, Shortt N, Rind E, Mitchell R. Life course, green space and health: Incorporating place into life course epidemiology. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13(3):331.