People living at higher altitudes have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to Spanish researchers.

Scientists at the University of Navarra suggest that the geographic area in which you live contributes to the risk of metabolic syndrome. This is the medical term for the combination of high blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, which contributes to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

“We found that those people living between 457 to 2,297 metres had a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those living at sea level (zero to 121 metres),” said co-senior author and PhD candidate Amaya Lopez-Pascual.

Obesity, smoking and sedentary behaviours are among the leading risk factors for metabolic syndrome, but not a lot is known about how our environment could affect this risk.

The researchers analysed data from a Spanish project that asked participants to submit their health information twice-yearly since 1999.

This data was then used to track the development of metabolic syndrome in relation to the altitude of where participants lived, of whom were initially health at the beginning of the study.

It was shown that the higher the altitude where a person lived, the less likely they were to develop metabolic syndrome. This association existed even after analysis of family history.

“Living or training at high altitudes or under a simulated hypoxic [oxygen deficient] environment seems to help with heart and lung function, losing weight, and improves insulin sensitivity,” said co-senior author Pedro Gonzalez-Muniesa.

“Unfortunately, metabolic syndrome is very common and increasing worldwide. Our research will help us understand what factors contribute to its development.”

The study was published online in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

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