How to Keep Oxygen Levels Up in a High Elevation

Altitude sickness can develop without proper acclimation to higher elevation.
Altitude sickness can develop without proper acclimation to higher elevation. (Image: Rupert King/Photodisc/Getty Images)

If you live near the ocean or in a low altitude, a trip to the mountains may leave you short of breath. At higher elevations, less air pressure can require more effort to keep you at the same level of oxygen you are used to at home. Traveling too quickly, either by car or by plane, from sea level to elevations of 7,000 feet or more will not allow your body the time it needs to naturally acclimate. Rushing may bring about altitude sickness.

Rest appropriately upon arrival at a higher altitude. Try to do some non-strenuous or seated activity right after you land rather than going straight to bed, because once you fall asleep, your slower breathing may only delay your acclimation. Pay attention to your energy level. Exerting yourself too quickly may make you sick. Slow your pace and take frequent breaks with any physical exertion. Everyone acclimates to higher altitudes differently.

Breath deeper and with more frequency. Focus on your breathing if you start feeling breathless. You can feel lightheaded not just from walking or jogging but also from singing or playing a wind instrument. Different parts of your lungs work to bring oxygen to your body at higher altitudes. Breathing deeper than you normally would will help activate those parts of your lungs and produce more red blood cells to carry oxygen through your body.

Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and eat a high-calorie diet with carbohydrates for energy. Drink water even if you do not feel thirsty. Extra water and food are needed for more methodical breathing. The air at higher altitudes is drier and colder. Both will have an effect on your throat, particularly after you have been breathing more consciously. Avoid liquids such as alcohol or foods that will dehydrate you. Do not take sleeping pills or anything else that will depress your breathing while you are acclimating to the new elevation.

Sleep at a lower altitude than the elevation where you physically exert yourself. If you are traveling to the mountains for a skiing vacation or plan to hike or play sports, make sure that where you rest at night is at a lower point on the mountain. Since your breathing will slow once asleep, you do not want to struggle to take in oxygen.

Tips & Warnings

  • Descend to a lower altitude if you feel disoriented, experience a loss of coordination, have a loss of appetite or a lingering headache, feel nauseous or do not feel less tired after drinking water or eating. If these symptoms of altitude sickness persist, seek medical help immediately. Do not “sleep off” your exhaustion. The symptoms may worsen or become life-threatening.

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