When athletes train at high altitudes, the decreased oxygen supply to their bodies causes extra stress, which builds stamina over time.
Lincoln University Sports Scientist Dr Mike Hamlin recently conducted a meta-analysis to see whether this type of training could improve the cardiovascular health of people with sedentary lifestyles or heart disease.
“There’s a lot of available research on the benefits of altitude training for athletes but very little about its effect on sedentary or clinical populations,” he says.
“I reviewed 26 studies, where 22 focused on sedentary participants and four looked at clinical patients.”
Three different simulated altitude training methods were used as part of the studies.
The first two techniques included either reducing participants’ oxygen supply for three to four hours (prolonged hypoxic exposure) or five to 10 minutes (intermittent hypoxic exposure). The third involved depriving participants of adequate oxygen during exercise.
For sedentary patients, intermittent hypoxic exposure was judged most likely to improve the heart rate during exercise.
“This improves fitness and means people will take longer to become exhausted during aerobic exercise,” says Dr Hamlin.
For clinical participants, prolonged hypoxic exposure may increase the flow of blood through the heart and allow for easier exercise.
Dr Hamlin says that typically, a four-week intervention of hour-long hypoxic exposure intervals five days a week was beneficial for easier breathing and enhanced ability to exercise at maximum intensity.
“Intermittent exposure may improve fat metabolism in the short term but normal exercise is likely to work better for this in the long term. However, there is evidence that intermittent exposure may improve vascular health.”
PHOTO: Lincoln University Sports Scientist Dr Mike Hamlin administers altitude training to a Lincoln rugby player. Altitude training is well known for improving athletic performance, but may also have health benefits for sedentary and clinical populations.