Cardiopulmonary response and body composition changes after prolonged high altitude exposure in women.
Weight loss in men is commonly observed during prolonged high altitude exposure as a result of a daily negative energy balance. Its amount depends mainly on duration of exposure, altitude reached, and level of physical activity. This reduction in body weight often comes with a loss of muscular mass, likely contributing to the decreased physical performance generally reported. Limited data is, however, available on body composition, functional capacity, and cardiopulmonary response to exercise after high altitude exposure in women. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of prolonged high altitude exposure on body composition and on cardiopulmonary response to maximal exercise in a group of young, moderately active women. Twelve female subjects, aged 21.5 ± 3.1 (mean ± SD), BMI 22.1 ± 1.9 kg · m(-2) and Vo(2max) 33.8 ± 3.5 mL · kg(-1) · min(-1), participated in this study, by residing for 21 days at high altitude (5050 m, Pyramid, EV-K(2)-CNR laboratory). Before and after high altitude exposure, all subjects underwent both a body composition evaluation using two methods (bioimpedance analysis and DEXA) and a functional evaluation based on a maximal exercise test on a cycle ergometer with breath-by-breath gas analysis. After high altitude exposure, data showed a slight, nonsignificant reduction in body weight, with an average 3:2 reduction ratio between fat and fat-free mass evaluated by DEXA, in addition to a significant decrease in Vo(2max) on the cycle ergometer test (p<0.01). Changes in Vo(2max) correlated to changes of leg muscle mass, evaluated by DEXA (r(2) = 0.72; p<0.0001). No changes were observed in the maximal heart rate, work capacity, and ventilatory thresholds, while the Vo(2)/W slope was significantly reduced (p<0.05). Finally, Ve/Vo(2) and VE/Vco(2max) slopes were increased (p<0.01), suggesting a possible long-term modulation of the exercise ventilatory response after prolonged high altitude exposure.