Even recreational hikers need to prepare before they hike in high altitudes. Thinner air can impact a person at altitudes as low as 5,000 feet above sea level. At these and higher altitudes, the percentage of oxygen in the air is the same, but with each breath, a person’s lungs take in less total air. At 12,000 feet, each breath carries 40 percent less total oxygen.
Any hiker who is planning a trip should first consult with a doctor to ensure that they are in good health. Preparation must start at least two months in advance and should include practice hikes at varying altitudes. Interval training is another excellent way to exercise. This involves elevating the heart rate with physical activity, recovering, and then elevating it again in repeated patterns. Finally, developing a deep breathing routine helps increase lung capacity, which is an asset at higher altitudes.
Dr. Cecilia Lyons Gaffaney is an experienced hiker who has hiked at high-altitude locations in South America.