Wednesday, September 07, 2005

High-Altitude Living May Be the Fountain of Youth

Maybe this is why most trail runners look like they fill their water bottles from the fountain of youth. People who live in the mountains may have longer life expectancies than people living at lower altitudes, according to a recent report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The findings are based on research involving 1,150 inhabitants of three villages near Athens, Greece. One of the villages is located in a mountain region about 1,000 meters above sea level, while the other two villages are located in the lowlands.

(Photo courtesy of Gregoire LeClercq)

Researchers tracked cardiovascular health, risk factors and death rates over a 15-year period, and the results suggest that people who live in mountainous areas have better heart health than lowland dwellers. Compared with their peers living in the plains, the mountain dweller group initially showed higher coronary heart disease risk, including higher rates of circulating blood lipids and higher blood pressure. However, the mountain dwellers ultimately had a lower death rate and lower incidence of death from heart disease.

The researchers concluded that the results could most likely be attributed to other “protective” factors, such as long-term physiological changes from living at higher altitudes, and the cardiovascular benefits of walking uphill regularly on rugged terrain. Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they said living at moderately high altitude produced long term physiological changes in the body to enable it to cope with lower levels of oxygen (hypoxia), and that this, combined with the exertion required to walk uphill regularly on rugged terrain, could give the heart a better work-out. Some reviewers also point out that in Greece, deaths from heart disease are among the lowest of any developed country, a factor which could be largely due to the Mediterranean diet most people eat.

Of course, those of us who are lowlanders and want to improve our heart condition don’t want to get too crazy. High altitude living presents risks to those who already have heart disease, and at altitudes over 3,000 meters you run the risk of Chronic Mountain Sickness (CMS). Best to ease into it.

- SD


  1. nice post.....keep it up....

  2. Avik, that's an awesome picture!


  3. That is a neat picture. Great writing Scott. I have been running for a long time( I‘m a football player) but still have difficulty with my "wind" not lasting as long as I would want it too. What sort of exercise would you recommend for building my level up?

  4. Scott,

    I just found your blog about a week or so ago. I have to say GREAT JOB, and THANK YOU!

    I love this article about the high altitude living being a "fountain of youth", if you will. Living in the Salt Lake Valley, surrounded by mountains, I'm very familar with running uphill! In fact, it seems everywhere is uphill!

    Running up the canyons here on paved roads is great, but there's also a LOT of great trails for running and hiking on. And I gotta' say, running downhill is by far the most fun and fabulous thing ever!


  5. Tash -

    Thanks for the question. One thing I've found out is that you have to run slow to run fast. By that I mean building a base over a few months early in your "season" where you don't push yourself so hard that you can't hold a conversation. It feels lame when you're doing it, but really pays off when you start running faster.

    Heart rate monitor co's and training software co's love to rant on this concept of building aerobic capacity. Here's a link -->

    I've also found swimming to be great with breathing control. But the best first step is to get out there and go slow!

    - SD


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