Physical Adaptations

It takes between 2 weeks and 2 months for your body to adapt to living at higher altitude. Most of it happens without an individual even being aware of the changes.

When a child is born at higher altitude, their lungs naturally grow larger to accommodate the need for increased oxygen. At very high altitudes, this results in a more “barrel chest” appearance, because the rib cage also grows a bit wider.

When someone whose lungs are fully developed moves to higher altitudes, their body no longer has the capacity to do that. Nature provides another way to adapt, and their body produces additional red blood cells to carry oxygen more efficiently. Within 2 months of moving to a higher altitude, your body has adjusted to the change.

This adaptation can be hampered by conditions which interfere with the proper production of red blood cells. People with such conditions need to be aware of the potential problems before moving, and seek counsel from their physician.

You also require more water at higher altitudes. Initially, the need can be much greater, but over time, you adjust to that also, partly because your body learns to be more efficient with what it has, and partly because you simply get used to drinking more water.

There are other changes that occur over time. Many people find that after living at high altitude for a while, some conditions may improve, others may worsen. Breathing problems are likely to worsen some with time. Arthritis may improve, or worsen, depending on the type, and the individual – My mother has severe osteoarthritis, and for her, the dryer climate and high altitude relieves 80% of her pain.

Some affects from living in the mountains will only be noticeable after a year or more. And not all are due to altitude. Some are due to low humidity, wind, cold, increased sunlight intensity, minerals in the water, and other factors. Affects can be positive or negative, depending on the individual.

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