It's no surprise that where you live can affect your health. People who live in big cities often have to contend with higher rates of pollution than country dwellers. People who live in cold northern climates often have lower levels of vitamin D than those who live in the south. We typically imagine that people who live in tropical paradises have lower stress levels than the rest of us. Even living close to a golf course can affect your health, as the pesticides used to keep the grass green may increase your risk of neurodegenerative disorders. (Unfortunately, the relaxation and exercise benefits you may be getting from living on the course won't be enough to counteract this.) So location really does make a difference. But I bet you never realized that not only does where you live matter, how high you live matters as well.
Believe it or not, simply living at least a few hundred feet above sea level can decrease your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, characterized by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and obesity. This syndrome, as you can imagine, contributes to a number of diseases, particularly heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. But according to research published in Frontiers in Physiology, you can decrease your risk of all these issues simply by moving into a mountain home.
To do the study, they enlisted the help of 370 men and women with documented herniated lumbar (low back) discs. They analyzed the level of their pain, their physical function, nerve symptoms, such as numbness and weakness, and overall quality of life. Some of the patients went on to have the discs surgically removed. The others preferred conservative measures, such as rest and physical therapy. The patients were evaluated at six weeks, three months, one year, and two years. Here's what they found.
Specifically, the researchers found that living between 457 and 2297 meters above sea level lowered your risk compared to living 0 to 121 meters. The higher you go, the lower your risk. The researchers evaluated data from thousands of individuals, which helped them rule out coincidences related to living near cities or heavily polluted areas or having a family history of heart disease. Even if you're genetically predisposed to metabolic syndrome, living at a higher altitude can help you avoid it.
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The researchers believe these results have to do with the lower amounts of oxygen at higher altitudes. There's a reason that Olympic athletes often train up in the mountains. As your body adjusts to having less oxygen available, it's able to use it more efficiently and circulate it through your body better. Your heart and lungs function better, you're able to lose weight more easily, and insulin sensitivity improves.
I won't tell you to move to the mountains just to improve your health. Instead, take this as a reminder of just how important oxygen circulation is to your health. You can improve your circulation even when you're stuck at sea level by taking CircO2. It also can help you avoid altitude sickness if you do decide to take a trip to the mountains, as altitude sickness is a result of your body having trouble adjusting to a drop in oxygen levels.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD