Losing weight walking in the mountains

Losing weight walking in the mountains

Is it possible to lose more weight walking in the mountain than at sea level?

Effective weight loss strategy

The hsn_link tipo=”post” id=23786 anchor=”sensation of hunger” title=”Understanding satiety hormones” target=”_blank” ] is invariably associated with calorie restriction

Weight loss is accompanied by a decrease in energy expenditure, and the most effective strategy to lose weight and achieve optimal body composition is the one we’ve already discussed in other articles:

  • Suppressing appetite, and
  • Increasing energy expenditure.

Burning fat while walking

Environmental stress plays an important role in appetite suppression, and one of the most enjoyable experiences from a recreational point of view is hypoxia (never forget to enjoy the process) such as you get when walking in the mountains.

Losing fat through altitude

Altitude training at over 2500m altitude or in conditions of low oxygen saturation (94% oxygen saturation versus the usual 98% at sea level) allows the minimum activation levels for the activation of a transcription factor called Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF).

There are a number of hypoxia-inducible factors, but the most important in the regulation of adaptive responses to hypoxia are HIF-1α and HIF-2α.

The production of HIF-1α takes place continuously, but in the presence of O2 the transcription factor is unstable because the metabolic pathway of its degradation is mediated precisely by oxygen. However, in the presence of low oxygen levels, as occurs when mountaineering or climbing to high levels, HIF-1α doesn’t degrade to such intensity.


Its activation, among other effects, produces increases in the mass of red cells through an increase in erythropoietin, as well as changes in metabolism: it goes from a state more dependent on oxidative phosphorylation to one that requires less oxygen for the production of ATP such as the glycolytic pathway

The higher the altitude, the greater the glucose expenditure

Studies of glucose kinetics show that altitude is associated with higher rates of glucose oxidation both at rest and during exercise compared to sea level, consistent with this modification in HIF.

As each mole of glucose only produces 2 molecules of ATP (main source of energy), the activation of this transcription factor leads to a greater dependence on glucose to generate the necessary amounts of ATP.

Hiking in the mountains

Positive results have been seen in stays of only 1 week at a high altitude (2650 m) in overweight and obese people without limitation in nutritional intervention, with walks of 30-60 min a day at a slow pace:

  • A 2% decrease in body weight accompanied by a lower calorie intake of approximately 730 kcal.
  • An RMB increase of 4 kcal/kg/day.
  • After 4 weeks of returning to normal altitude, the trend (along with habits) continues.

Loss of appetite at altitude

The greatest reduction in appetite occurs during the first few days after the ascent, as the intake of proteins and calories can decrease by around 30% compared to normal amounts at sea level.

This is the ideal time to start the exercise intervention as food cravings will be reduced and daily physical activity can be increased without associated anxiety.

After several days of acclimatisation, the normal rate of caloric intake is restored, but energy expenditure can also continue to increase without fear of regaining the lost weight.

How altitude affects leptin

Leptin is another critical factor influenced by altitude and responsible for changes in energy balance

The gene for this hormone related to lipid metabolism contains HIF response elements, so its gene expression is increased when activated (in hypoxia).


Although we need to bear in mind that weight loss reduces leptin levels, which is secreted by adipose cells

Therefore, the loss of adiposity could mask the stimulatory effect of hypoxia in the production of leptin, and this hormone will be further increased if there is a nutritional accompaniment to exercise at altitude


Due to the above, choosing a mountain destination, in addition to being a wonderful environment to enjoy, can in fact be an effective weight loss strategy

More than 200 genes are subject to regulation by HIF-1α that are not normally affected, which is why its activation is emerging as a therapeutic approach for obese, overweight and/or diabetic people

And when strength training is added into the mix, all the better.


  1. Chicharro, J. L., & Vaquero, A. F. (2006). Fisiología del ejercicio. Madrid. Ed. Médica Panamericana.
  2. Pal Palmer, B. F., & Clegg, D. J. (2014). Ascent to altitude as a weight loss method: The good and bad of hypoxia inducible factor activation. Obesity, 22(2), 311-317.
  3. Simler, N., Malgoyre, A., Koulmann, N., Alonso, A., Peinnequin, A., & Bigard, A. X. (2007). Hypoxic stimulus alters hypothalamic AMP-activated protein kinase phosphorylation concomitant to hypophagia. Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(6), 2135-2141.
  4. Wheaton, W. W., & Chandel, N. S. (2011). Hypoxia. 2. Hypoxia regulates cellular metabolism. American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology, 300(3), C385-C393.

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About Mario Muñoz
Mario Muñoz
Mario Muñoz is an enthusiast in the field of research, as reflected in each of his articles published with excellent scientific rigour.
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