Beside genetic and life-style characteristics environmental factors may profoundly influence mortality and life expectancy. The high altitude climate comprises a set of conditions bearing the potential of modifying morbidity and mortality of approximately 400 million people who are permanently residing at elevations above 1500 meters. However, epidemiological data on the effects of high altitude living on mortality from major diseases are inconsistent probably due to differences in ethnicity, behavioral factors and the complex interactions with environmental conditions. The available data indicate that residency at higher altitudes are associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular diseases, stroke and certain types of cancer. In contrast mortality from COPD and probably also from lower respiratory tract infections is rather elevated. It may be argued that moderate altitudes are more protective than high or even very high altitudes. Whereas living at higher elevations may frequently protect from development of diseases, it could adversely affect mortality when diseases progress. Corroborating and expanding these findings would be helpful for optimization of medical care and disease management in the aging residents of higher altitudes.
Keywords: High altitude; UV radiation; disease; hypoxia; mortality; physical activity.