health

Mountains of Youth: Finding Longevity in Mountain Living

At first glimpse of a mountain peak, I begin to feel it. I recognize it as a sensation of lightness, or possibly even giddiness. On my journey from the city to the Blue Ridge Mountains, my excitement builds with each mile marker. As my car climbs the first mountain to home, I notice a deep sense of calm sweeping over me. And as my breath deepens, I observe my racing thoughts slow and my blood pressure drops. My intuition tells me I have made the right move to leave the city behind and choose mountain living. While I trust my gut, some might need a little science to spur or confirm a decision.
It’s obvious that fresh mountain air, a slower pace, cooler temperatures, and green spaces are good for us, new research tells us living in the mountains has positive health benefits and could actually prolong our lives. A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that living at higher altitudes creates a lower oxygen environment that mitigates heart disease. “Lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes, and we think these genes may change the way heart muscles function. They may also produce new blood vessels that create new highways for blood flow into the heart,” according to a study produced by the University of Colorado School of Medicine in partnership with the Harvard School of Global Health.
Furthermore, higher altitudes stimulate a certain hormone called leptin that is responsible for weight management, proper metabolic function, and balancing our energy stores. Possibly because of leptin production, lower rates of cancer and obesity were also found in mountainous communities. Lower mortality rates, greater levels of positive mental health, and lower levels of stress and anxiety were found in mountain residents compared to those living in more urban environments. I like this new evidence!  Who doesn’t want a healthier heart, lower risk of cancer, less stress, and weight loss? This green, mountain living could really be the fountain of youth! 
It is well known that living in a green environment is linked to stress reduction and well-being, and now it is concluded that a simple walk in the woods slows our heart rate and reduces anxiety. Using brain scans, heart-rate monitors, and behavioral tests on study participants, researchers, as reported by Scientific Reports, have proven the sounds of nature, like running water or birds singing, have restorative and positive physiological effects on our bodies and minds. 
The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau has a long history of people seeking wellness in the Blue Ridge Mountains, whether it is to get away from it all or actually convalesce from an illness. Known as a health resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this area drew people from afar to rejuvenate in the invigorating, clean air. We even had the first sanatorium in North Carolina in 1908 during a tuberculosis outbreak. 
Things have not changed much over the decades as many people still come from far and wide to seek solace here. Of course, anyone who enjoys getting outdoors to golf, croquet, fish, hike, yoga, canoe, and camp can find all that and more in this area. Take away excessive light pollution and dangerous electromagnetic frequencies found in more urban settings, and you have found your panacea.
And as if this couldn’t get any more perfect, our mountains are host to the highest number of vortexes, or energy fields, in the country according to Asheville Magazine. A vortex is thought to be a physical location that harnesses a great amount of positive and rejuvenating energy. Twenty-four vortex have been identified near the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, attracting people who seek emotional healing, spiritual awareness, and tranquility. Some might call it a “mystical Mecca.”
Just as the 19th-century naturalist John Muir famously penned, “The Mountains are calling and I must go,” many others are finding themselves “called” to this 400-million-year-old mountain chain. Once some of the highest mountains in the world, and despite being beaten down by time and erosion, the Appalachian Chain still proudly stands as the highest mountain range in the Eastern United States. The North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains claim a good many of the highest peaks and have the blessed fortune of being a biodiverse temperate rainforest. 
Some of this may explain why more people are choosing to leave the urban jungles behind for a more relaxing quality of life in the lush, green forests, and mountains with a hue of blue. Yes, we have to travel a little further for an international airport or shopping at Costco, but as we trade fast-paced living, traffic, and smog for cleaner air, taller trees, higher altitudes, and mountain vistas, we relish in our good sense and science’s findings, to feel young and alive here on the Plateau. •