The Effects of Living and Traveling to High Altitudes


The surface of the Earth consists of a range of different landscapes and sites. There are massive water bodies, desert plains, high mountains, and low depressions. In some of the most extreme conditions, you may still find people who have set up and built their lives in these conditions. Human beings have the ability to adapt to all kinds of environment, and that includes high altitude. The experiences and effects of living and traveling to higher altitudes are discussed in this article.

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Defining Altitude

The complexity and diversity of the Earth’s structure and surface requires certain reference points to measure location including coordinates, altitude, and distance from a particular point. The altitude of any point on the planet is defined as the height above sea level. High altitude locations include mountains. The conditions, weather, and general environments in these areas are unique and different from those at lower altitudes.

Highest Peaks in the World

For as long as time, the human race has wanted to explore the Earth’s entirety and conquer even the most dangerous places. Climbing the highest peaks on the planet has been one of these activities. There are many extremely high mountain peaks around the world, and these have been reached in what were very often momentous expeditions. Over 100 mountains have a peak that is 7,200 meters or 23,622 feet above sea level.

The highest point on Earth is Mount Everest in the Himalayan mountain range, which stretches between Nepal and China. This mountain rises to a dazzling height of 8,848 meters or29,029 feet above sea level. The peaks that follow include a range of mountains in the Himalayan as well as other great mountain ranges like the Karakoram mountain range around Pakistan, India, and China.

Adapting to Changes in Altitude

There are some significant changes that occur at higher altitudes. At the level of the sea, there is the most atmospheric pressure because of more of the atmosphere above that point. On the other hand, at higher altitudes, there is less air above. This means that there is less atmospheric pressure.

Another effect of the thinning air at higher altitudes is that there is less oxygen available. As people go higher and higher, it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe. This is the reason why many of the early expeditions to climb some of the highest mountains encountered difficulties. Low oxygen supply at higher altitudes causes fatigue and can become detrimental and unsafe. Carrying oxygen gas tanks is often necessary to supplement the deficient natural supply at higher altitudes.

For people that have always lived in mountainous areas, there systems and lungs learn how to adapt to the air supply. For visitors to those regions, it may take some adjustment and discomfort to breathe normally at first.

Living at higher altitudes, and the adaptation that the body makes in such cases, has been shown to be advantageous when these individuals go to lower altitudes and at sea level. In the case of marathon runners from the mountainous regions of East Africa, their adapted lung capacity helps them breathe well and helps to build their endurance for the long marathon races.

The adaptation effects may be attributed to the increase in red blood cell formation in the blood of people at high altitudes. Red blood cells are the important cells that are present in the blood and are responsible for oxygen transport. Living at high altitudes for a long time enables the body to produce more of these to increase the body’s ability to take in more oxygen. This is because each cell has a limited capacity.

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