Campus & Community

People live longer at higher altitudes

2 min read

Scientists measure the height of health

The high life is a healthy life, at least in Greece.
Residents of a village at an altitude of 3,100 feet suffered fewer heart attacks and lived longer than people in two nearby lowland areas, researchers from Harvard and the University of Athens found. Their study followed 1,198 men and women for l5 years.

Although the mountain dwellers on average had higher blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood fats, they died from heart disease at less than half the rate of the lowlanders. Death rates were 61 percent lower for the men, 54 percent lower for the women.

Greater physical activity and adaptation to reduced oxygen levels at moderate and high altitudes are responsible for their longer lives, the scientists conclude.

“The benefits of daily physical activity are well-known,” notes Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the research. “The physical strain and energy cost of walking are greater on uphill slopes than on level ground. In addition, acclimation to lower levels of oxygen, which improves endurance in athletes, probably conveys greater benefit than physical activity at sea level.”

Such activity for both highland and lowland men consists mainly of farming and animal breeding. That would explain the difference between men and women in the amount of benefit, Trichopoulos and his colleagues speculate. “Engagement of women in household activities may imply less physical activity compared with men,” they report in the April issue of The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Could these findings be applied to people in other countries, including the United States? “Yes, I would expect so,” Trichopoulos answers. Daily exercise has proved to be a good way to keep a heart healthy and to extend life no matter where people live. “It’s possible that daily exercise at moderately high altitudes might add a couple of years to life span,” he says.