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Does living at high altitudes help you keep off extra pounds?

Being stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo., could help you keep off extra pounds, a new study shows. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo.? You’re in luck, a new study says how high you live could influence your weight. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

If the weather, beauty and outdoor lifestyle weren’t reason enough to move to Colorado, here’s another plus:

Living in the mountains may actually help you stay trim. Or at least, not get really fat.

A new study of Army and Air Force enlisted personnel showed that those who already were overweight were less likely to become obese if they were assigned to a high-altitude duty station – having a 41 percent lower risk than those living at low altitudes.

The study, published in April in the journal PLOS One, looked at the records of 98,009 enlisted airmen and soldiers with body mass indices between 25 and 30 and at least two years of military service who moved between duty stations such as Colorado Springs, Colorado (altitude, 6,035 feet) and bases less than a half mile above sea level.

When adjusting for body mass index at the time of enlistment, gender and other factors, researchers found that living high offered protection from gaining additional weight.

The research appears to support earlier studies that show hypoxia offers some protection from weight gain. A 2013 study by some of the same researchers, including Capt. Jameson Voss with the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, found that people living less than 500 meters above sea level had four times the odds of being obese than their mountain-dwelling counterparts.

“This is the strongest evidence to date that moving to high altitude provides long-term obesity protection,” Voss said.

Although the researchers aren’t exactly sure why a low-oxygen environment reduces obesity risk, it has been proven in other studies that hypoxia reduces appetite and body fat. Some studies have found that leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that suppresses appetite, increases at high altitudes while leptin receptors also operate in a heightened state, causing satiety.

Interestingly, the analysis of those stationed at lower altitudes also found differences in obesity incidence in different parts of the country, indicating there may be other geographic factors contributing to increased weight, the authors noted.

Researcher Leslie Clark, a senior epidemiologist for General Dynamics Information Technology and a contractor with the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center said the results offer evidence that overweight troops could prevent or stall obesity by requesting high-altitude duty stations.

The chance of being stationed near or above 5,000 feet isn’t great, however, with so few bases located in the mountains. Still, there are a number, including Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe and the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, California; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; all Colorado duty stations; and Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, to name a few.

Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.

Patricia Kime

Patricia Kime is a health writer for Military Times. Reach her at pkime@militarytimes.com.

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