We know that high altitude can be challenging for humans. Mountain climbers must often carry oxygen to support their breathing toward the summit. And visitors to cities that are far above sea level – Denver, for example, at 5,280 feet high – can present serious challenges for visitors in the form of labored breathing, headaches, and fatigue.
But though the human body functions most optimally near sea level, there are actually some surprising benefits of living at high altitude. Just think about the grumbling of some NFL teams when they have to play away games at Denver’s Mile High Stadium.
You don’t even have to live full time at high altitude to experience benefits. Following are four compelling reasons to visit sky high cities as often as possible.
1. Heart Disease Prevention
A recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that living at high altitude can actually lower a person’s risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. High altitude does put greater strain on the heart and circulatory system, but the body can actually react to that stress and become stronger.
We don’t know how exactly high altitude offers this protection, but scientists understand that certain genes are activated in lower oxygen conditions. They speculate that this process both changes the way the heart muscle works and triggers the growth of new blood vessels that allow for greater blood flow into the heart.
Another possible explanation for the heart protection effect is that the body’s hemoglobin undergoes changes at high altitude that allows it to hold more tightly to the oxygen it accesses. While more research is needed, it’s clear that the body is able to put significant effort into directing more oxygen to the heart at high elevation – and these changes persist for quite some time, even after moving to a lower elevation level.