Exercise in Higher Altitudes
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Exercise in Higher Altitudes

altitude trainingTriathletes, runners, cyclists, and others who enjoy exercise love the beauty of hills and mountains. Colorado is very health conscious, which makes it a great place to exercise on vacation or to take advantage of some form of competition. However, before you embark on an exercise excursion in the mountains and other high altitude places, there are some things you need to know to have a safe, great time.
Image by Svyatoslov Romanov from Unsplash.

First, what constitutes high altitudes?  It depends. What is higher above sea level than where you live is a good place to start. I live at 490 feet above sea level. Denver is at about 5,000 feet above sea level.  That is a significant difference! Essentially, you would be at a higher altitude at 4,900 feet above sea level. High altitude is generally defined as 8,000 feet above sea level. If you aren't used to the elevation, you may feel it's effects.

Second, what should you anticipate when you exercise at high altitudes?
The basic principle is that at high altitudes, the air is thinner.The air molecules are spread further apart causing you to breathe in less oxygen at a time.The same ratio of oxygen to nitrogen exists, though. Your heart has to work harder to utilize oxygen in aerobic and other endurance activities.Your blood pressure and heart rate will elevate. If you take on exercise too soon, you may feel badly. You should watch for a headache, along with loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, difficulty sleeping, confusion, staggering gait, unusual tiredness, mood swings, impaired memory, and/or a deep inner chill, according to Estes Park Medical Center.They ought to know since Estes Park is between 7,500 feet 8,500 ft elevation.

Third, how should you prevent acute mountain sickness? Drink plenty of water and avoid or limit caffeinated beverages, alcohol,and salty foods because the air is drier. Good hydration helps get the oxygen through your cardiovascular system better. Eat higher carbohydrate meals and reduce the protein intake. Your heart must work harder. You also don’t want to overtax the kidneys. Know your limits as far as medical conditions go. If you have a heart condition, respiratory issues, or are pregnant, ask your doctor if it is safe for you to engage in physical activities first.

Beginning your exercise at high altitudes:

  1. Give yourself a day to sight-see. It could take several days and even weeks to adjust. You may notice a difference when you first arrive. We did. We were thirsty a lot and could feel our hearts work a harder walking around.
  2. Begin lightly at a low to moderate pace. The bicyclists we saw on the mountain road must be used to riding in higher altitudes. They had a good pace. It looked relatively easy. Don’t be fooled by watching others jog or cycle.Take care of yourself by resisting your competitive nature early in your training in this new environment. Image by R K Martin.
  3. Spend time at higher altitudes, but train at a lower altitude. This method helps your body to adjust to being in higher altitudes. Sleep at lower altitudes, too.You will find that if you are well-trained in general, it may be easier to acclimate.
  4. Go hiking in the mountains before running or cycling. This will also help you build up. It took us 1-1/2 hours to drive up the mountain after entering the park gate. We aren’t crazy! We drove up then walked around at some of the pull off points. When we reached the top at the gift shop- restaurant, we felt the effects of the elevation at 11, 750 feet! It messed with my fibromyalgia. Know your own health and how that will affect you.
  5. HYDRATE! The climate in higher altitudes tends to be drier. To avoid dehydration, drink water, drink water, drink water!
  6.  If you are thinking of hiking that far, go with someone who has more experience and will watch out for you. Make stops as needed to rest. As you feel more normal, increase your activity and intensity carefully until you feel at ease. Train low, rest high.
  7. Keep in mind that we aren’t designed by God our Creator to live at altitudes above 8,000 feet above sea level on a regular basis. So, if you think it looks great way up there, visit every once in a while. You can’t survive up there for extended periods of time.There is no record of people surviving at altitudes above 18,000 feet for more than two years, By the way. If you haven’t lived at higher elevations like Denver, the mountains will be difficult. You can adjust over time then your activity will be smoother sailing.
  8. If you have these symptoms, get medical treatment: unrelenting headache,extreme anxiety, feeling as if you will pass out, numbness and tingling of fingers, toes, hands, feet, chest pain, bluish fingers and lips.

Enjoy your trip safely. God bless!

Wikipedia  altitude articles:

Estes Park Medical Center “Acute Mountain Sickness” brochure.


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