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Mountain News: Mountains and good health

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Reviewing a new study about longevity, physical activity and obesity rates in the United States, the chief medical correspondent for NBC News quipped that the results could be summarized as "death by zip code."

Dr. Nancy Snyderman said the new study by the University of Washington showed that in some places in the United States, particularly in the South, people could expect to live about as long as those in some African countries.

But on the flip side of this study, the rankings of good habits and good health, locations dominated by mountains time and again came out in the top 10.

Longest life expectancy at birth? Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., was tops in the nation for men, but followed closely by Colorado's Gunnison County (Crested Butte) and Pitkin County (Aspen). Also in the top 10 were Colorado's Eagle County (Vail) and Wyoming's Teton County (Jackson Hole).

For women, Gunnison and Pitkin counties were again in the top 10.

In categories that suggest lifestyles that can yield longer lives, mountain counties were even more prominent. For physical activity for men, Teton County led the nation, but all the other top-10 counties had mountains and canyons. For women, Routt County (Steamboat Springs) led the nation, but most of the top-10 list were mountain places you've probably heard about.

Obesity is also more unusual in the ski- and mountain-based counties. As measured by smallest percentage of obesity for men, mountain counties dominated. For women, mountain counties were even more dominant. The lists also had what might be surprises: San Francisco, New York City and District of Columbia all are places of thin physiques, or at least places low in the flab category.

In broad terms, the amount of physical activity increased in the United States from 2001 to 2009, but so did the percentage of the population considered obese. For the study, sufficient physical activity was defined as 150 total minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

Previous studies have also shown greater longevity for people living in mountainous regions of the United States. There's some evidence that living in higher elevations has a salutary effect on longevity, as long as you don't smoke, drink heavily or otherwise engage in risky behavior.

However, health statistics can be skewed. For example, many people have been moving to mountain towns in their 50s and 60s. They tend to be in robust health and most have higher incomes, enabling them to afford better health care. Conversely, many people in poor health leave mountain valleys for shorter winters and lower elevations.

Mountain counties also bolt to the top of rankings based on per-capita income. Teton County ranks second only to New York City, and Pitkin County usually runs in the same crowd, but with other ski-anchored communities close behind.

Glacier hikers live to tell tale

WHITEFISH, Mont. — The lesson of this story is classes in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation could pay off. Whether it's you or somebody else depends upon the luck of the draw.

Three people hiking in Glacier National Park recently were hit by lighting and knocked unconscious. Others in the vicinity found the three were not breathing and successfully administered CPR, authorities told the Whitefish Pilot.

tram hole dangerous: officials

JASPER, Alberta — Don Pickle dug a hole near his front door in Jasper and installed a trampoline. It's safer that way, he tells the Fitzhugh, as bouncing off the trampoline produces less risk of a fall.

But Parks Canada, the federal agency that administers the townsite, will have none of it. The Fitzhugh explains that the agency had ruled that Pickle failed to get necessary permits and the hole is a safety hazard. It was planning to have a contractor fill in the hole and bill Pickle for the work.

Despite these plans, Pickle has spent his vacation days installing fencing and decking round the trampoline. A walkway already exists, allowing firefighters access should they need to get to his house. He insists that it's Parks Canada that has taken leave of its senses.

Flood forces Canmore to rethink waterways

CANMORE, Alberta — The torrential rains of June have officials in Canmore reconsidering the potential for flooding on tributaries to the Bow River.

Measures to guard against flooding of the Bow River itself had been taken previously. But not so for Cougar Creek, which in June brimmed beyond its banks and ate its way almost to the foundation of dozens of houses. By not much more than a whisker, all of the houses avoided being swept from their moorings and dashed into pieces. Damage, however, was considerable.

Looking into the future, officials now see the need for mitigation measures, not just on Cougar Creek, but several other creeks that flow through the city of 12,000 located about 15 minutes from the entrance to Banff National Park.

"Previously, we have never understood that those creeks could behave like that. Now that we understand that they can behave quite dangerously, I think it is incumbent to look at that in the planning realm," said Gary Buxton, general manager of municipal infrastructure.

Ron Casey, the former mayor of Canmore and now a legislator in Alberta, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that risk of flooding cannot completely be mitigated. "But it makes that likelihood of an occurrence that much less," he said.

Liquor gets front row, but 420 stays in shade

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Among mood-altering substances, marijuana seems to be a second-class citizen compared to alcohol.

That's clearly the policy in Steamboat Springs, where elected officials agreed to allow stores selling marijuana for recreational purposes only in some commercial districts, but not the prominent ones near the base of the ski area or the original downtown.

That decision was not without dissent, however. The Steamboat Today notes that two of the council members, Cari Hermacinski and Sonja Macys, questioned why the same zoning that applies to dispensaries of beer, wine and liquor should not also be used for marijuana.

Framing the discussion in Steamboat was the experience in Glenwood Springs, also in Colo., where a bevy of dispensaries of medical marijuana can be found in the downtown area. That concerns some people, although they don't seem to point to any particular impact to them or the community at large.

Interestingly, even people who voted for legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado draw the line differently when it comes to dispensaries in their own jurisdictions. That same issue is now paramount as Colorado jurisdictions decide whether and where to allow dispensaries of recreational marijuana.

New regulations adopted in Colorado guide the reasoning process by local jurisdictions. For example, state rules require a 300-metre buffer between marijuana dispensaries and schools. But does that include a ski school?

The Aspen Daily News states that several of its traditionally liberal down-valley jurisdictions, including Carbondale, Basalt and New Castle, have moved to ban marijuana stores.

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