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.