Does Living at High Altitude Help You Live Longer?

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Results of a four-year study by researchers at the University of Colorado suggest that living at altitudes around 5,000 feet (Denver is 5,280 feet above see level) or higher might increase lifespan. The study, recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, collated data from around the U.S. and found that, of the top 20 longest-living counties in the country, 11 for men and five for women were located in Colorado and Utah. Men lived on average 1.2 to 3.6 years longer and women 0.5 to 2.5 years more. When results were adjusted for other factors, including smoking and increased solar radiation, there was no significant difference between lowlanders and mountain folk. And among those with existing pulmonary disease, mortality increased. Still, the results suggest that hypoxic (lower oxygen) environments may bestow some health benefits for otherwise healthy people, and researchers want to find out more.

“Lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes and we think those genes may change the way heart muscles function. They may also produce new blood vessels that create new highways for blood flow into the heart,” says the study's author Dr. Benjamin Honigman of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and director of the Altitude Medicine Clinic. “Does living at altitude change the way a disease progresses? Does it have health effects that we should be investigating? Ultimately, we hope this research will help people lead healthier lives.”

—Nick Heil