Acclimating to Altitude // Prepping Your Body for the Mountains

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About 3-5 times a year, my family and I pack our bags and head up to Beaver Creek, CO. Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, the base of Beaver Creek mountain sits at at an elevation of 8,080′ making it one of the highest elevated ski resorts in Colorado [second to Breckenridge and Winter Park]. This little corner of Colorado has my whole heart and has captured my family. I always say “The higher up the mountain you go, the closer you are to God.” There’s just something about being up there that makes you realize just how great and grand this world is and just how small we really are.

Heading out to the mountains also makes you realize how unprepared you may be for physical fitness in higher altitude. All of the sudden, walking up a flight of stairs makes you feel like you’re ascending Everest and a brisk walk feels more like a marathon sprint! Acclimating to altitude can be a funny experience, but sometimes it can get ugly. Altitude sickness is a very real thing and it can quickly take you from enjoying your morning in the mountains to lying down sick for the rest of the day if you’re not careful. Since all of my loved ones are headed up to my favorite elevated place in the world, I figured that I’d take a moment to share with them the potential risk of altitude sickness and how to help your body in acclimating to the altitude so that your transition is as painless and easy as possible!

What Is Altitude Sickness and How do You Get it?

Altitude sickness happens when you quickly ascend from low to high elevations. The higher up you go, the thinner the air is, therefore those of us who are used to breathing daily at lower altitudes feel the effects of a small lack of oxygen. It’s not that you’re not getting any oxygen, it’s just that your body, at first, has to work a little bit harder to get what it’s used to getting in one breath.

And let me tell you, it’s no fun. The good news is that once your body acclimates to the altitude, the symptoms go away.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

– Headache
– Shortness of Breath
– Loss of Appetite
– Restless Sleep
– Upset Stomach/Nausea
– Dizziness/Faintness
– Feeling Weak

Quick Tips for Acclimating to Altitude:
  1. The effects of altitude sickness are weakened the slower your trip to higher elevation takes. For example, driving up to the mountains may make the transition easier than flying there.
  2. There’s no way of knowing if you are more prone to be effected by altitude sickness or not. Your fitness level or gender doesn’t matter. I’ve seen each and every member of my family, young or old, male or female, get a spell of altitude sickness at some point.
  3. We DO know that the elderly and young children can feel the effects of altitude sickness more intensely, as it is easier for young children to become dehydrated and dizziness and fainting pose an increased fall risk with the elderly.
  4. If you are worried about altitude sickness effecting you, talk to your doctor before you go on the trip. He/She can prescribe you some medicine beforehand.

While I don’t typically get sick or lose a day of my trip, I’d be lying if I said that the altitude never effects me. Because I travel up to high altitude in Beaver Creek, Colorado so often [multiple times a year], I have a little system I follow that I swear helps my body [and little B’s too!] in acclimating to altitude. It’s easy to follow and I’ve found that the few times when I’ve been out for an afternoon have been because I filled my day with to-do’s [like making a Thanksgiving Feast] and did not follow this protocol, specifically by drinking fluids! While there’s no guarantee that you’ll feel any effects – negative or positive – in high altitude, it’s always wise to know that the potential is there and to be mindful of how to best help your body acclimate.

Acclimating to Altitude – An Easy Guide to Prepping Your Body for the Mountains

Before The Flight/Drive

  1. Drink Water
    Every time I board a flight to Eagle/Vail or Denver, I make a point to drink an entire, large water bottle before landing. As soon as we land and I’m in the car headed to the house, I grab another one and start drinking it. The point is that the more hydrated you are, the better off you’ll be.
  2. Take Advil or Tylenol
    The other “Travel Day Ritual” that I have when it comes to traveling up to the mountains is that I take an Advil as soon as the plane is in the air. The altitude in Beaver Creek almost always gives me a mild headache, so I make sure to take another according to the timing and dosage on the bottle.

Before The Flight/Drive *with Kids*

  1. Have Them Drink Water
    You better believe that I make B drink as much water as he possibly can on that flight and/or drive up to the mountains. Here’s a helpful hint: Gatorade tastes yummy to littles and does have extra electrolytes in it. I grab one, along with a Smart Water [for the same reasons] and I add a touch of gatorade to his little water bottle/juice cup and I make sure that I’m consistently refilling it throughout the trip. Pedialyte works great, too, if you’d prefer something with less sugar. Even better? They have Pedialyte packets that you can simply pour into the juice cup or water bottle!
  2. Children’s Advil or Tylenol *with your doctor’s consent*
    This is something to talk to your doctor about. I’ve been lucky enough to have never needed to do this, but if your little one is prone to altitude sickness or pain, it’s good to have a Dr. approved game plan in place to help make it easier on them.

Once You’ve Arrived

  1. Grab a Gatorade
    It’s not my favorite choice, but there’s something about the salt and sugar in there that makes it a really good altitude elixir. I try and sip on one as soon as I get to the destination and then I try and have it the next afternoon too. I pour Gatorade into B’s water almost the entire first 48 hours that we’re there.
  2. Take it Easy
    Don’t take off on a big hike or decide to do a Crossfit workout in the altitude. Save that for later on in the trip. On day one, just take it easy. Enjoy the views. Have yourself a cocktail [just know that you’ll need to hydrate extra if you do and be prepared for it to hit you harder] and a good meal. You made it! Time to relax

Once You’ve Arrived *with kids*

  1. Be Consistent about Fluids
    The name of the altitude game is hydration. It’s the last thing our littles have on their minds, so it’s important that, as their parents, we make a conscious effort to get them to drink fluids. Be mindful to continue this throughout the day and evening.
  2. Have Them Eat
    When you get there, make sure they eat a good dinner. By good, I don’t necessarily mean healthy, but I mean good as in they need to actually EAT. If your little will only be guaranteed to eat a lot if it’s chicken nuggets or pizza, go ahead and get them the chicken nuggets or pizza. It’s about getting them something in their tummies so that they can prepare for a good night’s rest, which is essential in acclimating to the altitude and is actually not super easy to attain the first night there.
  3. Continue the Children’s Tylenol According to Dosage
    If your little is needing some children’s Tylenol or Advil and you’ve discussed it with your doctor, continue to administer it according to the timing and dosage recommended on the bottle.

At Bedtime

  1. Take Another Advil
    Just do it [but only if you’re taking it according to the directions on the bottle]. I promise it’ll help. If you’re an Advil PM-er or a Benadryl kind of person, you’ll appreciate taking anything that will help you sleep that first night. I never have a good night’s rest my first night in the altitude.
  2. Go to Sleep with a FULL Cup of Water
    If hydration is your goal, this will be a given. I almost always wake up in the middle of the night PARCHED and looking for water. It’s nice to have it by the bed.

At Bedtime *with kids*

  1. Be Prepared for a Restless Night
    My first night’s sleep in the mountains is never restful. I don’t know why, but I always find myself tossing and turning all night long. Same goes for baby B. It never fails that he wakes up asking for mommy because he just feels, well… weird. And if I feel weird, I know he does too!
  2. Let Them Snuggle You
    So, what do I do? I let him sleep with me. Right up in there, in my arms. If I’m going to have a restless sleep, I might as well snuggle my sweet little love while I do it!
  3. Put Them Down With a Juice Cup of Water/Gatorade
    The Gatorade/Water cocktail is such an easy and affective way to get you little ones to hydrate in the altitude! I can’t recommend it enough!

Here’s a Helpful Hint: If it’s okay with your pediatrician, Children’s Benadryl is something I’ve considered giving B before bedtime on our first night. The reason for that is this [and you’ll see it in my next list of altitude acclimation advice]: I don’t know if it’s the increase in pressure or what, but my sinuses ALWAYS hurt the next day and usually in the summer, my allergies are bad the first day. I’ve considered putting B down with some Children’s Benadryl just to help him get a good first night’s sleep AND to help potentially prevent him from feeling sinus pains or allergies the next day. Once again, talk to your doctor. A friendly reminder, too, is that Benadryl energizes some kids, so if you’ve never given it to your child, I don’t recommend giving it to them for the first time in a setting like this, but talk to your doctor!

The First Full Day

  1. Allergy Meds – Like Sudafed – Work Wonders
    I don’t know what it is about the first full day after a sleep in the altitude, but my sinuses immediately start to hurt. I usually take a 6 hour OTC sudafed [just one] and it does the trick for me. I don’t know if it’s the pressure or what, but it’s not super fun so I like to stay on top of it.
  2. Keep Drinking Water
    Get the point?

The First Full Day *with kids*

  1. Remember to take it as easy as possible
    I try not to push it too hard that first day, but just play it by ear and decide based on how you and your littles are feeling!
  2. Keep Giving them Fluids
    Staying hydrated is key, so I try and keep the Gato-water cocktail flowing in the my little one’s water bottle all day!

 

This is just my typical plan for acclimating to altitude that I like to stick to when I head up to the mountains. Altitude sickness is no fun and is a quick and easy way to ruin an afternoon or even a day of vacation. Being mindful that it can happen and taking steps to best help your body in acclimating to altitude is never a bad decision… especially as a parent. Do you travel to high altitudes often? If so, do you have any tips and tricks for a seamless and easy altitude acclimation?

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