Higher Elevations Healthier for Hearts

Study finds lifespan increases with altitude

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TUESDAY, March 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- That Rocky Mountain high may help keep hearts healthy, according to a new study that finds lifespan increases as the elevation at which a person chooses to live climbs skyward.

A 15-year study out of Greece finds people who live in mountainous areas live longer and are less likely to die of heart disease than those who reside in lowland areas

The study focused on 1,150 residents of three Greek villages. One of the villages is located in a mountainous area about 1,000 meters (roughly 3,000 feet) above sea level, while the other two villages are located on the plains. The residents of all three villages have similar livelihoods -- the women are usually homemakers, the men tend to farming or raising livestock.

At the start of the study in 1981, blood samples and information on risk factors such as gender, age, weight, smoking habits, blood pressure and alcohol consumption were collected from each participant.

This initial information suggested that, overall, men and women living in the mountain village had a worse coronary heart disease risk profile than the people living in the two lowland villages. The mountain village residents had higher rates of circulating blood lipids and higher blood pressure.

Over the following 15 years, 150 men and 140 women in the study died. Of those deaths, 67 were attributable to coronary heart disease.

However, the mountain-village residents had lower death rates, as well as lower rates of death from heart disease, compared with residents of the lowland villages.

Because the mountain residents had higher blood lipids and blood pressure, they must have other "protective" factors, the researchers concluded. They noted that living at moderately high altitude causes long-term physiological changes in the body that enable it to adapt to lower levels of oxygen. This, along with the effort required to regularly walk uphill on rough terrain, could provide the mountain residents with better heart workouts, they conclude.

The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

More information

The American College of Cardiology has advice on preventing heart disease.

SOURCE: BMJ Specialist Journals, news release, March 15, 2005

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