In this video Catharine describes her research on people’s experience of everyday landscapes and how access to different outdoor environments, and barriers to access, impact on health and quality of life.
I’m Catharine Ward Thompson, Professor of Landscape Architecture in ESALA (the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture) at Edinburgh College of Art.
I direct OPENspace research centre, which has been the focus of most of my research since we established OPENspace in 2001, to develop a better understanding of how to provide inclusive access to attractive and accessible outdoor environments.
I’m interested in people’s experience of their environment and how accessing the natural environment, in particular, may be an important component of a healthy lifestyle. I’ve worked with a range of different participants in exploring these issues, including children and older people. I have recently completed a project looking at how older people’s quality of life is affected by access outdoors, an important, EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Science Research Council) funded project called I’DGO, involving a consortium of researchers from different universities and disciplines.
Recent innovative work I’ve been involved in included seeing if we could predict people’s stress levels in deprived urban communities based on how much green space, as objectively mapped, they have around their homes.
The innovative bit was to measure daily patterns of cortisol, obtained by asking people to collect a salivary sample every three hours over the course of a day, as a biomarker of stress. In a sample of people struggling to cope on their income and living in deprived contexts, our study found that the amount of green space near home predicted both the patterns of cortisol (with lower green space indicating greater stress) and self-reported stress levels. The patterns were different for men and for women but provide new evidence of a salutogenic environment-body interaction.
I’m currently leading a major new NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) funded project to explore how woodland improvements – involving physical and social interventions – affect the mental wellbeing and stress levels of deprived urban communities in Scotland. Like most of my work, it involves interdisciplinary collaboration and partners such as the Forestry Commission Scotland.
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