How Hiking In The Mountains Changes Your Blood

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If you’ve ever seen the film Rocky IV, you will recall how Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, trains in the mountains of Russia for his fight against Ivan Drago. While this certainly made for a powerful cinematic montage, it also has a basis in reality. Many professional athletes, such as Oscar de la Hoya, train at high-altitude training camps ahead of big games or matches, because of the benefits such activity gives to their cardiovascular endurance. The atmosphere is much thinner at high attitudes, meaning that your body gets less oxygen through breathing than it would at sea level. The body can adapt to these new conditions, and recent research shows that the changes to your blood cells are much more profound than previously thought.

Here, you’ll find out how high altitude changes your blood, and how you can benefit from these changes to increase your physical endurance and athletic performance.


What Altitude Does To The Body

The majority of the world population lives at elevations that are at or around sea level. At sea level, the atmosphere is densest, about 14.7 pounds per square inch, and this is more or less what the human cardiovascular system has evolved to deal with. When you travel to higher elevations, the air becomes thinner because the oxygen atoms (and others) are not as close to one another as they are at lower altitudes. The result is that with each breath, the body takes in less oxygen than it would at sea level.

The effects of changes in air pressure begin to manifest themselves at around 7,000 or 8,000 feet. The more immediate symptoms someone who is not accustomed to high altitudes will experience are fatigue and feeling lightheaded. You might feel tired going up a flight of stairs, or more exhausted after going for a walk than you normally would. This is because your body and brain are not getting as much oxygen as they normally do, so your cardiovascular system has to work harder than it normally would in order to function properly. This might be inconvenient, but at higher attitudes, more severe symptoms can occur.

For most people, the threshold for when full-blown altitude sickness occurs is approximately 12,000 feet. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and exhaustion. In extreme cases, altitude sickness can be fatal.

How sensitive a person is to the effects of changing atmospheric pressure is largely genetic. Some people do not experience attitude sickness at all, while others are severely debilitated by it.

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