Guru Magazine - - Health -

Is it un­rea­son­able to get ex­cited when the leaves start to fall, sim­ply be­cause it means that the ski sea­son is com­ing? He­len Knowles thinks not! In ea­ger an­tic­i­pa­tion of do­ing some shoop, shoop-ing, she con­sid­ers what the moun­tain­top ex­pe­ri­ence does to our bod­ies.

As soon as there is a chill in the air, I find my­self dream­ing of fresh pow­der, cold blue skies and the adren­a­line rush that comes from hurtling down a snowy slope. But be­fore I head off to the log cabin, I won­der what I can do to help coun­ter­act the ‘I am SO un­fit!’ feel­ing that I ex­pe­ri­ence in the first few days af­ter ar­riv­ing at

al­ti­tude… My fit­ness con­cern came about dur­ing my first sum­mer trip to the French Alps. A flight of stairs that I would nor­mally bound up left me gasp­ing for breath. Talk­ing dur­ing the gen­tle walk up to the ho­tel was al­most im­pos­si­ble with­out stop­ping to gather breath. My sum­mer res­o­lu­tion to con­tinue jog­ging while on hol­i­day (slightly op­ti­mistic, I ad­mit) dis­solved as I col­lapsed in a breath­less, weary heap less than 100 me­tres from the start.

There is some noth­ing in the air…

Few of us can charge up a moun­tain-side like Aragorn and friends in Lord of the Rings. Luck­ily, I have an ex­cuse – and so do you: each lung-full of has much less oxy­gen at higher al­ti­tudes than at lower ones. But con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief,

the con­cen­tra­tion of oxy­gen in the air is the same on the top of a moun­tain (it re­mains at 21%, no mat­ter what the al­ti­tude is); there is sim­ply less

air up there. The air pres­sure at the top of Mount Ever­est, for ex­am­ple, is only a third of that at sea level. As a re­sult, moun­taineers aim­ing for the top of the world only take in a third the amount of ‘air’, and so a third the amount of oxy­gen, with each gasp. Just imag­ine do­ing even mod­er­ate ex­er­cise and tak­ing only one out of ev­ery three breaths… How­ever, a win­ter ex­cur­sion in the Alps won’t be at Ever­est height – the ski-able slopes usu­ally top out at around 3,500 me­tres. At this al­ti­tude, the avail­able oxy­gen is about two-thirds of that at sea level – still enough of a drop to ren­der you and me more than a lit­tle breath­less. Be­ing weak and breath­less is an un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. With less oxy­gen in the lungs, there is less oxy­gen in the blood. And less oxy­gen in the blood means less oxy­gen get­ting to the mus­cles. And oxy­gen-de­prived mus­cles are less able to pro­duce en­ergy – mak­ing them tire much more quickly, and mak­ing you feel like you’re car­ry­ing lead in your pock­ets. So, what can you do to com­bat th­ese al­ti­tude ef­fects? Ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion is the key (in other words, ‘go easy on your­self’).

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