On numerous occasions while walking, hiking or biking the area getting winded or light headed is not uncommon. Especially for the first few days upon arrival. This is due to being at a higher elevation that your body is accustomed to. To simplify it, you’re depriving your body of the level oxygen that it’s used to receiving. How does one acclimate to the sudden changes to get the most out of their trip?
First, what does higher elevation due to your body when you are not use to it?
The human body begins to breathe heavier which causes the lungs to pump faster. This is a result from the lesser concentration of oxygen because of the lower pressure. Your body will produce more red blood cells due to the lungs pumping faster which can be good but too many red blood cells can cause blood clots throughout the body. The body will naturally want to lose weight because the lungs and heart are working harder. This is a reason why people will urinate more when in higher altitude.
What are the side effects that you will need to expect and watch out for?
With your body being at higher elevations it will naturally try to adapt and give signals. This may include being lightheaded, dizzy, increased breathing, and dehydration, bleeding, feeling weaker and being tired. Some people might have more effects than others based on age, gender, physical and mental shape, past experiences of surgeries or injuries.
Preparing for the change of higher altitudes
If you know you are planning on going to a state or terrain that is higher elevation it is best to prepare. A great way is to start exercising and training your body to adapt faster. This can include running, weight training, yoga, swimming, biking and etc. If you are already in great shape try pushing it further by putting on a mask to make it challenging to breathe or even use less rest during your workouts to increase lung capacity. Nutrition is also important to your body with change in elevation. Eating foods with sufficient proteins, fats and carbs is key to allowing your body to function best. Carbs will be your friends because of the fast energy they create. Things to eat would be protein bars, high carb bars, trail mix, and other fast digestive foods when putting the body through higher altitudes. Last but not least is drinking lots of water for hydration due to increased energy and urination.
Recovering and listening to your body
The body will take time to adapt to higher elevation. If you are feeling winded on the first day do not freak out as it will only get better as time goes on. The best way to recover is resting and listening to the body. You will need extra rest with your body not being used to breathing harder. Staying hydrated will help the body recover after a long day of activities. This also requires getting the right nutrition in your body for better recovery. Listening to the body will also help by allowing yourself to rest, drink more water, or even possibly exercising more to increase your physical shape.
Personal experience and what I have learned from higher altitudes
As a former all state year round swimmer, I was in some of the best shape a person can ever be in. Training twice a day from 3-4 hours while also weight training. My breathing and lung capacity was above average but it was no match for the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Everything I did felt twice as hard including training and walking. Though after the first two days I could tell my body was adapting to the climate. I was starting to feel stronger and in better condition. I make sure every time I go to higher elevations I drink plenty of water, eat a little more, and rest. What I am trying to say is that no matter how much you have prepared you will still feel some effects of higher altitudes and that is ok. Just be relaxed and enjoy the time you have and face it as a challenge and your body will overcome. For me having a positive mindset helps me with adapting to the change of elevation and allowed me to better enjoy the time I had.
By: Christian Lynch and Stephanie Jones