Friday, July 8, 2011

High Altitude in Northern New Mexico

What is High Altitude?
Altitude is defined on the following scale: High 8,000-12,000 feet; Very High 12,000-18,000 feet; and Extremely High 18,000+ feet. As altitude increases, atmospheric pressure decreases, which affects humans by reducing the partial pressure of oxygen. The human body can adapt to high altitude by breathing faster, having a higher heart rate, and adjusting its blood chemistry. Extremely high altitude cannot be permanently tolerated by humans.

High Altitude Sickness
It can take days or weeks to adapt to high altitude. There are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it and some people don’t, and some people are more susceptible than others. Most people can go up to 8,000 feet with minimal effect. If you haven’t been to high altitude location before, it’s important to be cautious. If you have been at that altitude before with no problem, you can probably return to that altitude trouble free, as long as you are properly acclimatized. The major cause of altitude sickness is going too high too fast. Given time, your body can adapt to the decrease in oxygen molecules at a specific altitude. This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes 1-3 days at any particular altitude.

Drink Water!
Before your trip to Taos or Santa Fe (and while you are here), drinking plenty of water is the number one way to help your body adjust easily to the higher altitude of these communities. The low humidity in Northern New Mexico keeps the air dry (afterall it is the desert), so you need about twice as much water here as you would drink at home.

Monitor Your Alcohol Intake
In Taos’ rarified air, golf balls go ten percent farther... and so do cocktails. Alcoholic drinks pack more of a wallop than at sea level. It is recommended that you go easy on the alcohol in the mountains and in Taos and Santa Fe, as its effects will feel stronger there.

Eat Foods High in Potassium
Foods such as broccoli, bananas, avocado, cantaloupe, celery, greens, bran, chocolate, granola, dates, dried fruit, potatoes, and tomatoes will help you replenish electrolytes by balancing salt intake. And all those wonderful foods are good for you to consume anytime!

Watch Your Physical Activity
The effects of exercise are more intense in the high desert. If you normally run 10 miles a day at home, you might try 6 miles in Taos or Santa Fe.

Pack for Sun
With less water vapor in the air at this altitude, the sky really is bluer in Taos. But there’s 25% less protection from the sun, so sunscreen is a must. Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm... even in winter.

Dress in Layers
Two days before your trip to Taos or Santa Fe, check the weather and use that information to pack appropriately. Because Taos is closer to the sun, it can feel much warmer than the actual temperature during the daytime, but then become very chilly after sundown, particularly in the Spring and Fall. It is best to layer your clothing.

Take It Easy and Have Fun!
Don’t let anything you hear about the high altitude in Northern New Mexico scare you. The air is just thinner and dryer. In fact, many people with respiratory problems move to Taos for the benefits of the dry air. Just follow these simple tips and you will very likely not even notice the difference.

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