I’ve wanted to live in the mountains for a long time — really ever since I was a little girl and our family made road trips out west. The peaks of the western state — Colorado, Wyoming, California — seemed to possess a certain amount of grandeur. So many memories fill my heart with joy of time well spent in the mountains. Plus, a huge added bonus for people like Bryon and I who love the great outdoors is living in a place full of skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, mountain biking and backpacking literally right outside your door. Living at high altitudes also provides natural “blood doping” as the lack of oxygen equates to the body producing more red blood cells. There is 30% less oxygen at 8000 feet which means any kind of exercise makes your heart work that much harder. At a recent check-up with my doctor, they ran some routine blood tests, and my hemoglobin was well above normal. It’s great when we take vacations to lower elevations, like California or the east coast. A few years ago, we ran a road race in San Francisco (Bay to Breakers), and we felt sensational. We were able to run up the steep hills with ease, and to run that much faster with less difficulty, because of the “thick” air.
All of this evidence leads to the obvious question — are people who live in the mountains healthier? Maybe yes, maybe no. While people are frequently more active and exercise more because of the natural scenery and outdoor opportunities (Colorado is the least obese state in the country), the rates of suicide for those who reside in the mountains are much higher than other areas. Apparently the thin air can affect the brain processes, which can exacerbate mental illness, thus leading to suicide. Also, a lot of mountainous areas are quite rural — our little town of Nederland has a population of only about 1300 people. Rural areas also have higher suicide rates, people seem to isolate more readily, which can lead to depression, alcoholism and drug addiction.
I’ll throw in one more factor that I feel can be the determining factor for whether mountain living will make for a healthier lifestyle. I recently read a story that spoke to me — it detailed a study about how connecting with nature on a daily basis helps us de-stress, and therefore lead healthier lives. It suggested that people who regularly connect with a natural environment either through work or where they live have less incidence of heart disease and healthier immune systems. This story reminded me of a speaker I heard once at a retreat in Oregon. He talked about how nature can connect us spiritually, and fills us up and told the story of a man who felt so wonderful every time he visited the Redwood forests in Northern California. He concluded his talk by urging all of us to find that place that fulfills your spirit, and either live there, or go there often.
I know since the time I was a little girl I’ve felt that when I was hiking, driving, or recreating in any way in the mountains, my heart felt like it was singing. I felt so filled up by joy that I thought my heart would burst. I would smile and sometimes sing songs from one of my favorite movies, “The Sound of Music” because I felt so carefree and lighthearted. I’ve had more of those days here than anywhere else I’ve lived, and surely that can’t be a bad thing.