Talk reveals the good and bad of high-altitude living |

Talk reveals the good and bad of high-altitude living

Eben Harrell

Want to stay skinny? Live in Aspen. Want to win a gold medal at the Olympics? Don’t exercise here.These were some of the claims made last Thursday in front of a packed crowd at the Given Institute as a world-renowned expert on altitude physiology gave a presentation titled “Exercise and Altitude.” Rob Roach is a researcher at the Colorado Center of Altitude Medicine and Physiology in Boulder. He also has extensive knowledge about both exercise and altitude: He once lived for a summer at a base camp at 12,000 ft. on Mount McKinley, and his wife is an Olympic marathoner.Roach said it’s only in the last few years that scientific research has backed up what athletes have known for years – living at high altitude makes you more fit. Thin air bolsters levels of EPO, a substance famous because of its illegal, synthetic form that many athletes use for doping. EPO in turn increases hemoglobin in the body, which makes for more effective delivery of oxygen to muscles, a key for athletic performance.”If you want to be a top athlete you can go to Kansas and blood dope illegally, or you can come to moderate altitude like Aspen and dope legally,” Roach said.Interestingly the benefits of life at altitude can only occur with healthy levels of iron in the body, so Roach said young women should consider iron supplements while training in Aspen.But Roach also said that for athletes, training at high attitude is not ideal. Above sea level, an athlete can’t reach his or her maximum oxygen intake level; meaning no matter how hard you train, you can’t push yourself to the limit. “Live high, train low” has become the new motto for athletes who live at altitude but go to sea level for training.”Altitude doesn’t make super-people,” Roach said. “Altitude trainers don’t live or train year-round at altitude.”For most weekend warriors, however, altitude can be very helpful in many aspects, including weight control. The concluding section of Roach’s talk was titled, “Not a lot of fatties around here.” Altitude, Roach said, reduces appetite while boosting metabolism. It’s such an effective way to stay skinny, Roach is currently investigating whether “oxygen tents” for sleeping that mimic high altitude might be an effective way to deal with America’s obesity epidemic.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is