If you go running or hiking in mountainous areas, you should be aware of the ways that rapid elevation change can affect your body. Some of these changes will likely cause few problems while others may be of greater concern. Here are a few changes that are known to affect runners and hikers during sudden elevation shifts.
Breathing Capacity Differences
The higher you go in elevation, the less oxygen you’ll have to breathe. According to Run to the Finish, oxygen levels may decrease as much as 40 percent if you’re 14,000 above sea level, and the amount of oxygen in the air can decrease further the more you climb. If you suddenly start running up a large hill or mountain, you’ll likely have a more difficult time breathing and may need to lessen your physical exertion.
Heart Rate Fluctuations
If you suddenly venture to a higher elevation during your journey, your heart rate may increase more to adjust to the lack of oxygen. Polar notes that your body will demand your heart to pump harder to deliver the limited oxygen to your vital organs and keep you functioning. These heart rate fluctuations are generally of little concern unless you have a heart condition or abnormal blood pressure levels.
Ear Pressure Changes
Flying in an airplane isn’t the only thing that contributes to sudden ear pressure changes. If you’re running or hiking on rugged terrain that has sharp ascents and descents, you may experience uncomfortable sensations in your ears as the pressure inside of them changes to adjust to the elevation levels. WebMD states that these sudden changes in pressure can also result in a blocked eustachian tube in the middle ear, which often causes pain and hearing problems. According to Troy Howard, “The Eustachian tube can be blocked, or obstructed, for a variety of reasons. When that occurs, the middle ear pressure cannot be equalized. The air already there is absorbed and a vacuum occurs, sucking the eardrum inward and stretching it. Such an eardrum cannot vibrate naturally, so sounds are muffled or blocked, and the stretching can be painful.”
Your fluid intake requirements may change depending on the elevation. As you venture to higher grounds, your body will demand more fluids. Not bringing enough fluids with you on your hike or run in a rugged area could cause you to become dehydrated. If dehydration occurs, you’ll be more prone to symptoms like nausea, lightheadedness, and fatigue. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are other concerns that are associated with dehydration.
Rapid elevation changes can occur while trekking along uneven terrain. By making yourself aware of the changes that your body might endure and taking the right precautions, you can have a safer and more fulfilling experience while on your journey. To make that experience even more fulfilling, print out a profile of your journey and show it off.