Active vacations are becoming increasingly popular and many flatlanders take high altitude trips every year. If you train at low altitude and plan to exercise at high altitude, there are some tips and precautions you might want to heed.
The main concerns for those who travel to altitude to exercise include the following:
Decreased Availability of OxygenAs you move from sea level to higher altitude the air pressure decreases and your ability to easily take in oxygen is reduced. Because it is harder to get oxygen to your lungs, you compensate by increasing your breathing rate, depth and heart rate. Until you acclimate you may find that what you can easily do at home is more difficult at altitude. Hydrating for Exercise
Dehydration is a culprit in most cases of acute mountain sickness. Symptoms such as headache, mild dizziness, nausea, insomnia, and irritability can indicate dehydration and should not be ignored. In many cases problems can be prevented by taking simple precautions. If you plan to travel to, and exercise at altitude you should hydrate well by drinking before you feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they are diuretics that can lead to dehydration.Heat Stroke is a medical emergency. It strikes suddenly and with little warning. Signs of heat stroke can include a core body temperature above 105 degree F, hot, dry skin, a very fast pulse, and confusion or disorientation. Stopping activity and cooling the body are the key treatments for heat exhaustion.
Heat cramps are painful muscles spasms along with faintness/dizziness/weakness. They usually develop after several hours of exertion and sodium (and other electrolyte) depletion. Replacing lost electrolytes and fluids is usually the best treatment.
Increased Sun ExposureDirect sun exposure at altitude adds to the effects of dehydration, and can lead to serious sunburns. Sunburns occur more easily at altitude (especially for the fair-skinned) and sunburn can lower the skin's ability to cool itself.
To protect from the effects of sun exposure, avoid exercising when the sun is at its most intense (from 11-2pm). If you are out in the middle of the day, protect yourself with appropriate clothing, sun block (spf 30 +) and sunglasses.
Also See: Recommended Sport Sunglasses
Altitude Illness | Acute Mountain SicknessAbove 8,000 feet (2,424 m), many vacationers suffer from altitude illness. There are varying degrees of illness and the most common is altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS).
Acute Mountain Sickness. For those who get AMS, it generally occurs between 6,000 and 10,000 feet and causes mild symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea and poor sleep. Symptoms often clear up in a day or two, but if they don't you may need to go to a lower altitude until you feel better. Going from low elevation to high elevation quickly will increase your odds of feeling altitude illness.
Other, less common types of altitude illness include high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Symptoms of HAPE include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, cough and fatigue. Symptoms of HACE include confusion, lack of coordination, stumbling and poor balance. Both of these conditions occur most often over 10,000 feet and are serious conditions that require immediate medical attention.
How To Prevent High Altitude Illness
Keep in mind that it is easier to prevent many altitude related symptoms than to treat them once they develop.