While picturesque snow-capped mountains might seem like an ideal spot for a leisurely weekend or sports training, high altitudes can pose serious risks to your health. Oxygen is less accessible at altitudes above 8,000 feet, and hypoxia -- insufficient oxygen -- can cause immediate side effects such as dizziness and confusion. In extreme cases, altitude sickness can be fatal. A slow ascent coupled with proper breathing techniques can help you avoid the misery of altitude sickness and embrace the beauty of higher elevations.
Ascend to higher altitudes slowly. This allows you to gradually adjust your breathing and gives your lungs time to work more efficiently. Consider travelling to a slightly elevated altitude on the first day and then ascending to a higher elevation a day or two later. If you are climbing to high altitudes within a short period, take frequent breaks and climb slowly.
Breathe more deeply and focus on taking in long, deep breaths through your nose and breathing out through your mouth more rapidly. You can practice this technique even before you ascend to higher altitudes. Breath in for three to four seconds, and then breathing out for one to two seconds. The respiration rate tends to increase at higher altitudes, and if you don't focus on breathing deeply, you could end up hyperventilating,reducing the amount of available oxygen.
Take more frequent breaths. Most people naturally increase their breathing rate at high altitudes, but if you're having trouble catching your breath or are exercising, you might inadvertently be holding your breath. Each breath you take should be deep and slow, though you might take significantly more breaths than at sea level.
Slow your pace at high altitudes. When working out, your heart must pump more rapidly, and your respiration rate increases. At higher altitudes, your system might not be able to keep up and could struggle to oxygenate your blood. Walk more slowly and tone down your exercise routine until you've acclimated to the elevation.
- Smokers, as well as those with emphysema and lung and cardiovascular problems, are more likely to get altitude sickness and might have more difficulty controlling their breathing. If you suffer from a chronic condition, consult your doctor before ascending to high altitudes.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.