How Does Altitude Affect the Body?

A lot of us are simply not aware of the ways the topography of our region affects us. There isn’t any iota of doubt that altitude can have an extremely direct influence on your life as well as your health. The air gets thinner, the higher you climb into the atmosphere. Each breath carries a lesser amount of oxygen and you feel yourself to be less efficient while utilizing it. This is the reason why you may realize that you need to breathe harder and quicker to keep up with your pace while hiking in the mountains. For example, if any hiker is willing to spend 5 weeks in Aspen during the summer, then he or she can hike 464 miles with a 50lbs+ backpack as part of the training. The reason(s) are as follows:

Concept of Altitude and Its Significance

Altitude happens to be the distance that an object or location is above sea level. This may lead to a wide range of effects on an area, like differences in oxygen levels, differences in atmospheric pressure, and local fauna and flora. Certain plants and animals exclusively inhabit areas with much higher altitudes while specific weather phenomena take place due to a shift from an area of low altitude to an area of high altitude. So, altitude affects an area drastically on a rather large scale.

If you’re curious to know how it affects you as an individual on a personal level, then you should remember that the higher you climb into the atmosphere, the thinner the air gets, as mentioned earlier. As each breath carries a lesser amount of oxygen and you feel yourself to be less efficient while utilizing it. This is the reason why you may realize that you need to breathe harder and quicker to keep up with your pace while hiking in the mountains.

The Ways Altitude Affects the Body

While discussing the effects of altitude, we usually mention higher altitudes like staying in mountainous areas. With such areas, we find areas of moisture concentrations, lower air pressure, and air density. Each of these contributes to a drier environment with comparatively thin air and a lower concentration of oxygen in the area. Due to this, your lungs are compelled to take in extra oxygen and move it more adequately to the bloodstream. So, breath shortness is quite a common symptom of altitude sickness. Dizziness, dehydration, and headaches are quite common too, because of the colder and drier climate. Altitude is determined by how high a point is above sea level. A common myth is that you can only fall sick from altitude whenever you climb a mountain. However, that isn’t true. Whenever you’re at an altitude different than what you are habituated to, there’s the possibility of falling sick as your body should adapt.

Say, if you ever travel to Denver, Colorado you might have headaches and nausea. I travel to high-altitude locations every time as I believe it’s essential for my health and fitness. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean altitude sickness will never affect people like us. Altitude sickness is quite a common phenomenon among athletic individuals. It usually happens while training at higher altitudes. It can even occur while flying to a higher altitude. Professional athletes can be affected as well. Though staying hydrated is necessary, excessive fluid intake can also dehydrate your body more and worsen the symptoms. It’s important to drink water, but not too much. Moreover, it’s also important to avoid alcohol as it may dehydrate you faster, worsening the symptoms.

The Way This Affects Training

If you’re wondering how this affects training, then you must know that due to the effects of higher altitudes, endurance training is now the main regimen for athletes in specific locations and seems to be critical for cardiovascular exercise. The U.S. National teams train in locations such as Colorado due to the high altitude letting the players train their lungs to consume additional oxygen at lower levels. This lets them run for much longer and restricts the lactic acid accumulation during anaerobic respiration. But an important thing to consider is the relevance of proper rest breaks. Higher altitudes cause lowered physical performance in specific locations as well as dehydration making it crucial that one effectively utilizes rest breaks as frequently as possible.

Reasons Why Some People Suffer Due to Altitude Sickness

Several people ascending moderate or high altitudes feel the effects of severe altitude sickness. Usually, the symptoms of this sickness start 6-48 hours after the beginning of altitude exposure and include nausea, headache, dizziness, lethargy, and disturbed sleep.

These symptoms are more common among people ascending faster to altitudes of more than 2,500m, which is the reason most hikers are suggested to climb slowly, especially if they haven’t been to altitude earlier. One can’t anticipate who’ll be adversely affected by altitude exposure. Even among elite athletes, high levels of fitness aren’t protective enough against altitude sickness.

It has been observed that those who experience the worst symptoms have a low ventilatory response to hypoxia. So just as a few people aren’t great artists or athletes, certain human bodies are simply incapable of coping with the less oxygen in their systems. There are disorders too that affect the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity, like thalassemia, which may enhance the risk of symptoms. However, the best predictor of who may suffer from altitude sickness is a history of symptoms while being earlier exposed to altitude.

Reasons(s) Why High-altitude Natives Differ

People residing at altitude have more capacity for physical work at altitude. The Sherpas residing in the mountainous regions of Nepal are famous for their mountaineering skills. High-altitude natives have large lung volumes and greater efficiency to transport oxygen to tissues, both during rest as well as during exercise.

If there’s any debate over whether these characteristics are genetic, or the result of altitude exposure throughout life, then high-altitude natives have a distinct advantage over lowlanders during activities in hypoxia.

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