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There are scientific studies showing that when living at altitude the body increases its metabolism and can help to lose weight. Benefits in terms of improved athletic performance have also been scientifically proven.
Starting off - acclimatising
When you first arrive at a higher altitude, you cannot expect that your fitness level will be the same as it was at sea level. It is important not to overdo things and take things easy initially to allow your body to adjust for the first 24-48 hours.
Weight loss and fitness
Altitude fitness training is a practice used by climbers and some other endurance athletes who often incorporate several weeks of their annual training regime at altitudes of over 2,400 metres above sea level. Benefits in terms of improved athletic performance have been scientifically proven.
The physical benefits of spending time at altitude, once acclimatised, are significant when a person returns to sea level. The body becomes accustomed to operating efficiently using smaller amounts of oxygen when at high altitude.
When such athletes travel to competitions at lower altitudes they will still have a higher concentration of red blood cells for 10-14 days, and this gives them a competitive advantage.
There are scientific studies showing that when living at altitude the human body increases its metabolism and helps to lose weight, this happens once the body has gone through the 24-48 hour period of initial adaptation.
The body’s metabolism at high altitude (the scientific bit):
Living and exercising at altitude can lead to loss of body weight and muscle. This is more marked the higher you go and the longer you spend in reduced-oxygen environment. For example, there have been reports of weight losses of 3 per cent in eight days at 4,300 metres and up to 15 per cent after three months at 5,300-8,000 metres.
Oxygen is used to convert food into energy. By improving oxygen efficiency in the human body it improves the way it metabolises the food.
The main food source used by all our estimated 6 trillion cells is ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The metabolism converts food into ATP with the use of oxygen. The greatest energy reserve is fat, before carbohydrate. As the body carries out aerobic respiration,foods are broken down in the presence of oxygen to produce ATP. When the body is working efficiently it will use fat (as well as glycogen), being the most abundant food source to produce ATP. When it needs more energy it will choose to break down easier substances like carbohydrates, these supplies are more limited. Finally, when the demand cannot be met aerobically, the body adapts to anaerobic respiration, by which glucose is broken down to lactic acid and ATP is formed.
Whatever the altitude, the proportion of the different gases that make up air remain the same - just under 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen and 1% trace gases. What does change at altitude is the air density. This means that the higher the altitude, the fewer oxygen molecules there are in a given volume of air. This in turn means that there are fewer oxygen molecules to be transferred into the bloodstream via the lungs.
The well-documented physiological effects of specific training, or just being active, at altitude, cited by Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D., University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, include:
Increased natural hormone erythropoietin (EPO) production, which in turn increases red blood cell mass for delivering oxygen to muscle cells and converting it into energy.
> A boost in total blood volume to move oxygen more efficiently through your bloodstream.
> An increase in V02 max -the maximum amount of oxygen the body can convert to work, giving you more stamina for the long haul.
> Cranked-up hematocrit levels to provide a greater percentage of cells carrying oxygen.
> Elevated capillary volume, creating more blood pathways to muscle cells for improved muscle oxygenation.
> A higher volume of mitochondria--the powerhouses in cells that help your body turn oxygen into energy.
> An increase in the lungs' ability to exchange gases efficiently - so that every breath you take more oxygen gets into the bloodstream.
What happens when you return to normal sea levels?
The physical benefits of spending time at altitude, once acclimatised, are significant when a person returns to sea level. The body becomes accustomed to operating efficiently using smaller amounts of oxygen when at high altitude. Once returned to lower altitudes, where significantly more oxygen is available in the atmosphere, the body’s ability to intake and process oxygen during exercise is greatly enhanced resulting in significant gains in aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels.
Over time, the red blood cells get worn out and eventually die. The average life cycle of a red blood cell is 120 days. Your bones are continually producing new blood cells, replenishing your supply. The blood itself, however, is re-circulated throughout your body, not being remade all of the time.
Source: The Altitude Centre