A recent study that has emerged from the US has found that people living at high altitudes have a lower chance of dying from heart disease, many forms of cancer and tend to live longer than those people who don’t.
The 2018 study conducted by Markus Thiersch and Erik Swenson (High Altitude and Cancer Mortality), found that people living at altitude were benefiting from being exposed to chronic (hypobaric) hypoxia.
Despite the permanent stress of hypoxic exposure, people living in high altitude areas have reduced cancer mortality over a broad spectrum of cancer types. The study went on to conclude that the majority of the physiological adaptive processes occurring at altitude in response to hypoxia might be the driving force which is reducing cancer mortality rates.
Although many questions remain about the complex physiological forces at play, several other studies report similar effects on non-human species who live at higher altitudes as well.
The study also explores the two aspects with a proven impact on tumorigenesis (the production or formation of a tumour or tumours), namely the immune system and tumour surveillance as well as altitude induced metabolic changes. Further animal and clinical studies are clearly needed to explain why cancer mortality is reduced at altitude and to decide whether altitude or hypoxia-based therapeutic approaches could be implemented for cancer treatment.
How Charities Are Helping
Several UK charities have already started harnessing the health benefits of spending time at altitude. UK cancer charities Ski 4 Cancer and the Caring Cancer Trust passionately believe in the therapeutic powers of the alpine environment. To this end, the charities sponsor alpine respite holidays for people living with cancer – mainly in Austria, France and Italy.
Andrew Hayward from Ski 4 Cancer said, “This research is particularly important for charities such as Ski 4 Cancer and the Caring Cancer. This study proves beyond doubt that there are direct health benefits from spending time in alpine environments. This is reinforced by the amazing feedback we have received from people who we have sent to the mountains for a respite break.”
Ski 4 Cancer’s short-term objective is to quantify the altitude which is most beneficial to people in recovery and the length of time someone needs to spend at that altitude to derive maximum benefit. The charity’s long-term objective is to set up a respite centre in the European Alps based on the findings of the first piece of research. If successful, the charity plans to send families on alpine respite breaks all year round.
People who have been heading to the mountains on ski holidays will already know about the therapeutic powers of the alpine environment. So for all the non-skiers out there, why not look at booking your first ski holiday… it might just give your immune system the healthy boost it needs!
To make the most of your ski holiday, we highly recommend booking some ski lessons with a fully qualified instructor. If you are heading to the French Alps, we would recommend Meribel and Tignes as the best places for beginners.
Enjoy the healthy fresh air wherever you choose!!