A cross-sectional study of differences in 6-min walk distance in healthy adults residing at high altitude versus sea level

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Abstract

Background: We sought to determine if adult residents living at high altitude have developed sufficient adaptation to a hypoxic environment to match the functional capacity of a similar population at sea level. To test this hypothesis, we compared the 6-min walk test distance (6MWD) in 334 residents living at sea level vs. at high altitude. Methods: We enrolled 168 healthy adults aged ≥35 years residing at sea level in Lima and 166 individuals residing at 3,825 m above sea level in Puno, Peru. Participants completed a 6-min walk test, answered a sociodemographics and clinical questionnaire, underwent spirometry, and a blood test. Results: Average age was 54.0 vs. 53.8 years, 48% vs. 43% were male, average height was 155 vs. 158 cm, average blood oxygen saturation was 98% vs. 90%, and average resting heart rate was 67 vs. 72 beats/min in Lima vs. Puno. In multivariable regression, participants in Puno walked 47.6 m less (95% CI -81.7 to -13.6 m; p < 0.01) than those in Lima. Other variables besides age and height that were associated with 6MWD include change in heart rate (4.0 m per beats/min increase above resting heart rate; p < 0.001) and percent body fat (-1.4 m per % increase; p = 0.02). Conclusions: The 6-min walk test predicted a lowered functional capacity among Andean high altitude vs. sea level natives at their altitude of residence, which could be explained by an incomplete adaptation or a protective mechanism favoring neuro- and cardioprotection over psychomotor activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalExtreme Physiology and Medicine
Volume3
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Functional capacity
  • High altitude adaptation
  • Hypoxia
  • Six-minute walk test

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