Since 2008 federal agencies along with the recreation industry have been teaming up to promote a day dedicated to create opportunities for people to experience traditional and non-traditional outdoor activities, like hiking, canoeing, and geocaching.
This year’s National Get Outdoors Day is on Saturday, June 9, 2018 and we’re hoping people get out and safely participate in this annual event. While being active in nature can be a healthful time that fosters a deepened appreciation of nature, there are also some things to consider to make it a safe experience that will be a time to remember, not one you try to forget.
Many of Colorado’s outdoor activities as well as those you’ll find in other states take place at higher altitudes—being aware of altitude sickness can help ensure that your high altitude adventures are fun, healthy, and safe.
What is Altitude Sickness?
As you walk, bike, or drive to high elevations that are above 8000 feet, the air becomes thinner. When the air is thinner, the oxygen level remains the same, but the air becomes less dense and each breath you take in contains less oxygen than what you inhale at lower altitudes.
It can sometimes be difficult for your body to adjust to the lower levels of oxygen it’s getting. Your body will try to breathe more rapidly in order to get the oxygen it needs, this rapid breathing causes symptoms that can range from mild discomfort to potentially serious health risks.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone can get altitude sickness. Regardless of age, gender, level of physical fitness, or the amount of time you’ve spent at high altitudes in the past, you can experience slight to intense symptoms of altitude sickness.
Although anyone is at risk for altitude symptoms, people with heart problems or lung problems, as well sleep apnea sufferers may be at a higher risk and may want to consult with their doctor before venturing up to high altitudes.
What are the symptoms?
One of the first signs of altitude sickness is often a headache, but not always. Awareness of all the symptoms below is one of the most important ways to keep mild symptoms from becoming dangerous.
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Heart racing
- Diarrhea or Constipation
How Can You Prevent Altitude Sickness?
Acclimatization is allowing your body to adjust to the altitude by not going too high too fast.
Some people don’t consider the effects of driving up to high altitude—they think because they’re not exerting themselves, the altitude isn’t an issue. High altitude can affect you no matter how you get there, so take it slowly. If you’re driving, stop and enjoy the view on the way up—take a short walk and breathe deeply to help your body adjust for the next part of your ascent.
When hiking up to higher altitudes, avoid gains of more than 1,500 vertical feet in a single day. And when camping out, it’s safer to return to lower altitudes to sleep.
Before, during, and after your adventure at high altitude make sure that you drink lots of water. Don’t assume because you’re at cooler temperatures and not hot or sweaty that you don’t need to drink water… YOU DO! This is so important.
Your body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature and acidity is lessened when you’re dehydrated. If you know you’ll be at a higher altitude a few days before you take off on your trip, make sure to drink plenty of water each day, and then do the same when you’re at the high altitude.
Even if you’re sitting still, your body is working harder than usual when you’re at high altitude. Our meat and veggie bars are a quick and easy way to provide healthy proteins and carbs to help you stay nourished without chowing down on sugary snacks.
According to QiBreathing, more than 90 percent of people are using less than 50 percent of their breathing capacity. People typically inhale shallowly, which doesn’t fuel the blood and the body with sufficient oxygen and energy. At high altitude, where each breath is providing less oxygen than usual, breathing deeply is more important than ever.
Listen to Your Body
Everybody reacts differently to altitude so pay close attention to how you feel. A reported 75% of people feel some effects of altitude sickness such as headaches, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. Mild symptoms may be tolerable until a person becomes acclimated to the higher altitude. When symptoms don’t subside or worsen it’s best to descend to lower altitudes.
What to do if You Get Altitude Sickness
The best treatment for altitude sickness is descent, but medication can help with the symptoms. Consult a doctor before use. In severe cases altitude sickness can be truly life-threatening. If altitude sickness symptoms persist or worsen once you’ve descended to a lower altitude that you’re used to, and you may need to seek medical attention. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which is when excess fluid collects in the lungs, and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which is when the brain swells, are rare but life threatening conditions that require immediate descent and medical attention.
Preparation and awareness are the keys for fun and safe adventuring at high altitudes. Get your healthy lifestyle on—go outdoors—and make some treasured memories on this year’s National Get Outdoors Day.