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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Exercise and cardiovascular health on Everest

Jesuit priest Father Jose Acosta, wrote of his crossing the Andes in the late 16th century problems with sickness and vomiting which he attributed to the "thinne air", so "delicate as it is not proportionable wth the breathing of man". In 1865 the first man to climb the Matterhorn, Edward Whymper, recently commemorated in London by a blue plaque, was an early student of sickess at altitude. In recent modern times, climber Charles Houston made a major contribution to research into mountain sickness, his interest inspired by his episode in August 1953 of unconsciousness high on K2. He crystallised key ideas on mechanisms in his 1980 book "Going Higher: Oxygen, Man and Mountains".  Speaking about his talk at the 14th July Symposium on 'Exercise and Cardiovascular Health’ organized by the Cardiovascular Research Trust, Professor Chris Imray commented: "increasing numbers of people travel to altitude for both leisure and work purposes. On ascent to altitude, there is a reduction in atmospheric pressure, and there is consequently a reduction in the inspired levels of oxygen. The resulting physiological challenge stresses the body both at rest and further during exercise.
The cardio-respiratory challenges and the subsequent responses of ascending to high altitude will be discussed in detail, as will the role of ‘altitude training’."
Professor Imray will present "unique data from the Caudwell Xtreme Everest expedition, including arterial blood gases and the response to exercise at extreme altitude ...".
These studies provide important messages for health and risk for climbers at high altitude. They raise interesting questions about impact on brain and heart function of working at high altitude for border guards who are not acclimatised to low oxygen levels. They also provide insight into the physiological challenges and pressure for emergence of survival genetic variants for populations historically living at altitude.
See the symposium website for the programme.

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