Elevation acclimation is a crucial aspect of preparing for any high-altitude adventure. In this guide, we'll go into everything you need to know about elevation acclimation and provide you with five steps to better acclimate to higher altitudes.
Elevation acclimation, also known as altitude acclimatization, is the process of the body adjusting to lower oxygen levels found at higher altitudes.
As you ascend to higher elevations the air becomes thinner and oxygen levels decrease, causing physiological stress on the body that can lead to altitude sickness.
Whether you're planning a trek in the Himalayas, a journey to Machu Picchu, or simply a visit to a city at a higher elevation like Denver, elevation acclimation can make or break your experience.
Proper acclimation is essential to avoid altitude sickness, which can range from mild discomfort to severe conditions.
Altitude sickness can usually develop within 6-24 hours upon arrival at high elevations. With physiological stress including oxidative stress and dehydration from the lower oxygen levels, symptoms of altitude sickness can kick in such as headaches and nausea.
Symptoms of altitude sickness can include:
Look out for these type of symptoms, which are signs of your body not acclimatizing to elevation fast enough. To help your body with elevation acclimation, read our steps to take below.
The CDC indicates that elevation acclimatization takes 3-5 days.¹
While it can take weeks or months to fully acclimate, the most intense elevation acclimatization happens in those first few days. Altitude sickness can develop during the acclimatization process in those early days, but risk varies person to person and also due to speed of ascent.
The definition of high altitude by Cornell is 4,000 feet.
Altitude sickness can also start as low as 4,000 feet according to Travel Medicine Consultants.³ The risk can increase as you ascend higher in elevation, such as at 10,000 feet it's noted 50% people can get altitude sickness.⁴
Altitude sickness can wreck your experience, which is why elevation acclimation is going to be key when you're traveling to high-altitude regions.
With over a decade of high elevation experience out of Colorado, we'll share our top steps to help you acclimate better.
Here's 7 Steps To Acclimate Better:
By following these seven steps, you can improve your elevation acclimation to enhance your overall experience at elevated destinations. The steps include not going too high too fast, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding demanding activities, hydrating well, taking breaks often, limiting alcohol, and taking antioxidants.
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1. High Elevation Travel & Altitude Illness (Acclimatization)
2. Cornell High Altitude Definition
3. High Altitude Illness
4. Patient education: High-altitude illness (including mountain sickness)
5. Sleep: The Secret Ingredient of Injury Recovery
6. Why Do You Need to Drink a Lot of Water at a High Altitude?
7. High altitude and oxidative stress
8. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione
9. Oxidative Stress and Diseases Associated with High-Altitude Exposure
10. The 3 Stages Of Elevation Acclimation: How To Acclimate To Altitude Properly