16 March 2005

Sick Hearts Might Need To Live "Higher"

Mount ApoIf you have a coronary heart disease profile, you might want to consider living in a place with a higher elevation (give-away clue: go to the mountains!). A 15-year prospective study done in Greece recently found that people living in mountainous areas live longer and are less likely to die of heart disease than their counterparts who reside in lowland areas.

Mountain Dwellers Live Longer
Than People in Lowland Areas
15 Mar 2005

Mountain dwellers live longer than people in lowland areas, finds research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (April 2005 issue).

The findings are based on tracking the cardiovascular health and death rates of 1150 inhabitants of three villages not far from Athens, Greece, for a period of 15 years.

In Greece, deaths from heart disease and all causes are among the lowest of any developed country.

One of the villages is located in a mountainous area almost 1,000 metres above sea level; the other two are located on the plains. But the principal livelihoods in all three villages are similar --- farming and animal husbandry for the men and home making for the women.

Overall, both men and women living in the mountain village had a worse coronary heart disease risk profile than their peers living in the lowland area, with higher rates of circulating blood lipids and higher blood pressure.

In 1996, the researchers assessed the number of survivors. Over the 15 years, 150 men and 140 women died. Of these, 67 deaths, 34 of which were among the men, were attributable to coronary heart disease.

But after taking account of all the cardiovascular risk factors, mountain village residents had lower death rates, and lower rates of death from heart disease, than their peers in the lowlands. The effects were more pronounced among the men.

The researchers conclude that as blood lipids and blood pressure were higher among the mountain residents, other 'protective' factors must be at play.

[Medical News Today]

You can download the full study in PDF file here. The study abstract can be accessed here.

While reading the full text of the study, I noticed that the authors were meticulous enough to add these statements:
"the apparent protective effect of high altitude is not mediated by traditional risk factors like hypertension or blood lipid concentrations, as values of these factors were generally higher in high rather than in low altitude residents. The evidence points to higher physical activity of residents of mountainous areas as an important beneficial factor."

Of course, if you live in the mountains, you tend to have more physical activity. Other beneficial factors I see is the body adaptation to lower levels of oxygen. It is known that oxygen levels are lower in higher altitudes. This is part of the explanation why people living in Baguio City have rosier cheeks (right Ting-Aling and Watson?).

This adaptation to lower levels of oxygen coupled with the physical exercise required to regularly walk on rugged and uphill terrain, might be giving the mountain residents better heart workouts, and a longer lifespan than their lowland counterparts.

As an aside, here's some mountain talk: the mountain picture at the beginning of this post is Mount Apo, the greatest challenge for mountain climbers here in the Philippines. It is a tower at 2,954 meters or 9,689 feet. Here in Luzon, our tallest peak is Mount Pulog standing high at 2,930 meters or 9,613 feet. And since I lived almost half of my life in Batangas, there is of course, Mount Makulot in Cuenca. Not as high as Pulog or Apo, but it is proudly a challenge for mountaineers also and stands at 600 meters or 2,000 feet. My kabayan bloggers Apol and Mec are very familiar with this peak.

bouncyNow, this is a happy thought when I consider where to settle when I retire.

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