5 Easy Ways to Adjust to Higher Altitudes

5 Fantastic Tips to Adjust to Higher Altitudes with Ease

You don’t have to climb Mt. McKinley to experience high altitude sickness. A change in altitude of just a few thousand feet can result in headaches, shortness of breath, vomiting, and other high altitude sickness symptoms. These five tips will help you easily adjust to higher altitudes.

I have an MBA (and not an MD), so the advice in this article is based on what’s helped me adjust to higher altitudes during my travels. It should in no way be perceived as medical advice as I’m clearly lacking the letters required on my diploma to be a physician.

Although I live at a measly 700 feet above sea level here in Kansas City, I often travel to high altitude locations west of here. My parents live at an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet. The company I work for sits at an altitude of nearly 4,500 feet. And there are so many amazing places to visit in the Rocky Mountain states that are well above the altitude of my hometown.  

Have You Traveled To A High Altitude Location?

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Taos New Mexico is one of the highest cities in the United States
Denver is known as the Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level. But did you know that Taos, New Mexico, is 75% higher in altitude?

High altitude sickness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re old or young, male or female, a couch potato, or an Olympic athlete. Whether you are taking your first trip to a high altitude destination or you visit higher altitudes frequently, you can still suffer from altitude sickness at any time, during any visit.

What is Considered High Altitude

According to the experts at National Geographic, a destination is not considered high altitude unless it’s at least 8,000 feet above sea level. But whether the symptoms are mild or severe, you can experience altitude illness any time you rise an additional 1,000 feet above sea level.

With many Americans living near coastal areas at an elevation of around 500 feet above sea level, you may experience altitude sickness when visiting cities like Salt Lake City (4,300 feet above sea level), Denver (5,280 feet above sea level), and Albuquerque (5,300 feet above sea level).

What are Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Whether you experience mild symptoms or severe symptoms, these are some common symptoms of altitude sickness according to the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sleep problems

These five tips for adjusting to higher altitude will help your body get used to the new environment as quickly as possible.

A woman drinking water from a glass on a white background.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

1. Let Your (Water) Cup Runneth Over

As you adjust to higher altitudes and a more arid environment, your body loses water. This can quickly lead to dehydration. Therefore, one of the most important ways to help your body adjust to higher altitudes is to drink water. As a general rule, you want to double your water intake at high altitude destinations.

Sage Advice: Run a humidifier to help combat the dehydration and dry skin that are common as you adjust to higher altitudes. Most hotels in high altitude locations have them available at no extra charge if you inquire at the desk. I like to add a few drops of essential oils based on my symptoms. Because I never travel without lavender essential oil, adding a few drops of it to my humidifier helps fight the headache and nausea I often feel when I am at high altitudes. 

A cup of coffee with coffee beans on a wooden table.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

2. Hold My Beer (And My Latte)

Have you seen the meme of the coffee cup and the wine glass running around a race track passing a baton with the headline, “literally every day?” That is soooooo my life. Which makes this next tip for adjusting to higher altitudes the one I struggle with the most.

Because high altitudes and lower humidity require you to add more water to your body, it’s very important to cut back on diuretics that can further dehydrate your body. That means you should drink less coffee in the morning and less alcohol in the evenings in order to adjust to higher altitudes. 

3. Differentiate Your Diet

At higher altitudes, your body needs a diet that may be quite different than what you eat at home. As you adjust to higher altitudes, be sure to consume complex (not simple) carbohydrates, plenty of potassium, and increase your iron.

Oatmeal in a bowl on a white background.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Consume Complex Carbohydrates

Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates will help maintain your energy level and improve your body’s ability to absorb oxygen as you adjust to higher altitudes. Unlike simple carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and baked goods — you know, all of the stuff that is soooooo delicious to eat, but sooooo bad for your body at any altitude — complex carbohydrates are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

To help your body adjust to higher altitudes, consider these food swaps:

  • choose oatmeal instead of a croissant from the breakfast buffet,
  • create a bowl with brown rice instead of white rice at lunchtime, and
  • order a side of sweet potatoes, squash, or beans at dinner instead of French fries or mashed potatoes.
Bananas on a wooden plate with a bowl of sliced bananas.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Pound Plenty of Potassium

Foods that are rich in potassium will help you replenish your electrolytes by balancing salt intake, so slice a banana into your oatmeal at breakfast, select a side of broccoli instead of French fries at lunch, and add avocado to your bean burrito at dinner.

Sage Advice: A condition called hyponatremia can occur when you’ve had too much water without replenishing electrolytes or eating salts. If you’ve had plenty of water but begin experiencing nausea, muscle cramps, or disorientation, especially while exercising, have a salty snack like trail mix with nuts and dried fruits like raisins which are also high in iron.

A variety of iron-rich meats, vegetables, and nuts on a cutting board.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Increase Your Iron

Iron is needed to create hemoglobin, the protein used by red blood cells to deliver oxygen to your body. When traveling to high altitudes, increase your iron intake with supplements or iron-rich foods.

Meat lovers should order beef, bison, and dark meat turkey instead of chicken or pork. Pescetarians should opt for tuna, salmon, oysters, and mussels. And vegetarians and vegans can add iron in foods like eggs, spinach, broccoli, and kale.

A woman holding a water bottle in front of a city.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

4. Ease on Down the Road

If you live in Kansas, you are used to endless Wizard of Oz jokes the second you leave the state. So the first thing that came to mind as I wrote this sub-heading was the song from The Wiz, a version of the classic film starring Diana Ross as Dorothy.

Back to battling high altitude sickness…

There’s a reason Olympic athletes train in high altitude destinations where their hearts and lungs are working much harder than they do at sea level. Not only does exercising at a high altitude trigger the production of more red blood cells to help an athlete’s body deliver more oxygen to his or her body, but returning to lower altitudes to compete seems like a cake walk in comparison.

But when athletes move to a higher altitude destination to train, they ease into things. And you should, too. To help your body adjust to higher altitudes, ease into physical activity. Whether you walk, run, hike, climb, or ski, cut your physical activity to about 50-75% of what you normally do for the first few days to help keep high altitude sickness at bay.

A man is standing on a green field with his arms outstretched.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

5. Throw Some Shade

This tip isn’t just from someone who frequently travels to high altitude destinations. It is from a woman who was first diagnosed with skin cancer in her 30s. What warms your soul and fills your body with vitamin D can also kill you. And the sun’s impact is greater at higher altitudes.

For every 1,000 feet you climb above sea level, there is an estimated 10% increase in harmful sun rays. No matter the season, no matter the cloud cover, and no matter how much more melanin your skin contains versus mine, be prepared to protect yourself. Be sure to wear a hat, apply sunscreen, sport sunglasses, and carry chapstick.

What Tips Do You Have for Adjusting to Higher Altitudes?

Do you live at a higher altitude? Do you frequently travel to a destination with higher altitudes? What other tips or tricks do you have to help travelers adjust to higher altitudes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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37 thoughts on “5 Easy Ways to Adjust to Higher Altitudes”

  1. Just returned to low altitude yesterday. Had all altitude symptoms second day In Colorado. Did a 8 day train excursion. Severe heart palpitations, headaches and dizziness. Bought an oxygen bottle, drank lots of water and Tylenol.
    NOW back home – what’s good advise for adjusting. Still can’t walk and talk at the same time. Please – your thoughts

    1. Your train trip sounds amazing, but the high altitude sickness does not. If it were me, I’d give myself a day to get a ton of rest/sleep and hydrate like crazy (with electrolytes). If I wasn’t feeling better after that, especially closer to sea level, I’d probably see my doctor. Hope you feel better soon!

  2. I live at 600ft but often do wilderness trips between 6000 and 14000ft that involve strenuous activity. My favorite way to prepare is swimming laps in the pool with limited breath. Typically breathing every 5-7 strokes during freestyle. I work this into my routine 2-4 times a week in the month leading up to a big trip and it works wonders. Good way to simulate doing physical activity with the limited oxygen you’ll experience at altitude.

  3. Coca only in Peru. It works wonderfully as tea or chew
    I havent found it elsewhere, even in Eqador.
    It didnt make me high, although I think its illegal in US & probably other places
    Traveling with leaves if a good way to meet the Customs officers. I avoid that !
    Peruvians told be get in some sunshine straight off the plane & read or chill for awhile (2-3 hours)
    Good advise this also helps jet lag.
    Theres a homopathic tablet for jet lag, I have used it for altitude post flight…pretty sure it helped.

  4. Here it is March 2023 and this article is still providing important info. We are coastal Floridians (doesn’t get much flatter and more sea level than that), preparing to visit Europe with a few days in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland and a possible trip to THE TOP OF EUROPE (Jungfraujoch) so we will be following all these tips and tricks. Thank you!

  5. Thanks for the tips! I’m from the East Coast (300 ft elevation) and currently visiting Colorado. A few years back I stayed in Leadville, CO (10,000 ft and I wish I had these tips then. I’ve been in Colorado Springs (6,000 ft) for a day and tomorrow I’m taking a train up to the top of Pikes Peak (14,000). Hopefully all will go well and I don’t get sick!

  6. The highest altitude I have hike so far is just over 7,000 feet. This is the point that if gets difficult to breathe. Take your time, drink lots of fluids (not alcohol) and snack on nuts or protein bars frequently.

  7. I could really use these tips. In Santa Fe my family had quite an issue with altitude sickness. I wish we would have had these tips then.

  8. Great, easy tips.
    Recent research also suggests that exposure to altitude helps you to acclimatise next time – a great reason to book a summer trip to the mountains to prepare for winter on the slopes, or vice versa!

  9. I wish I had read your post before visiting the Andes! Altitude sickness is no joke. I struggled with a dull headache, trouble sleeping at night, sleepiness during the day, and more. Apparently, mine were pretty mild symptoms, but they were still alarming to me since I had previously traveled in the Alps and Rockies without any issues. So, I’ve learned it’s best to be prepared and hydrated — just in case!

    1. I’ve heard a lot of people really struggle when visiting the Andes. I wonder if folks typically travel to places that are at higher altitudes than popular destinations in the Alps and Rockies?

  10. The first time I went to Breckinridge I thought I was going to die, my head hurt so bad. I was there for a conference and didn’t feel better until it was over and it was time for me to drive home. I’ve been back to the area since and never had that problem but that first time was a doozy. Great tips! Drinking water certainly helps me.

    1. Hi, I’m thinking of doing a marathon which begins in Sundance WY and ends in spearfish SD. I live on the east coast with elevation of 400ft. Do you think I need to acclimate for it?

      Thanks for any info.

      1. What a beautiful part of the country for a marathon! If you live at 400 feet and plan to run a marathon at an elevation of 3,650 to 4,738 feet I would absolutely recommend acclimating. Not only does it sound like there is a big elevation change along your 26.2 mile course, but you may be surprised about how much more difficult it is to run at a significantly higher education. Your physician and fellow marathoners should be able to give you some very specific advice — like how to acclimate, how much time it will take to acclimate, etc. Good luck, and have fun!

  11. I got my first experrience of Altitude Sickness when I visited Peru. I’d never been anywhere that high up before. I just remember having constant pins and needles and a dull headache for days until I adjusted to it. Some really useful tips here, I didn’t realise potasium and iron helped! I’ll try that next time I’m in a high altitude region.

  12. This post reminded me of a conversation I had with my physio. When I told him that I wanted to start hiking(experience hiker would qualify it as just walking!), his first advice was that I ditch my weekend “croissants”. I grew up eating croissant and baguette for breakfast! So when you wrote “oatmeal instead of croissant from the breakfast buffet” I could’t help but chuckle. Your tips are on point but more than anything I would add drinking lots of water. Helps a lot.

  13. Excellent tips and some of them are quite surprising for me. In South America many people chew coca leaves or drink coca tea and that’s what helped me with altitude. Only the taste is terrible!

    1. Yes, I’ve heard of that option to combat high altitude sickness. But, if I remember correctly, it’s not a legal option in all mountainous regions of the world. Is that right? And I’m leery of the taste now, too!

  14. These are all such great tips. My brother lived in Denver so we visited often and I always struggled with this. It wasn’t until a store clerk told me to wake up with a bottle of water by the bed and drink it before I even get up that I started feeling better!

    1. That’s really good advice. I have to do that when I visit my sister in Phoenix. No, she doesn’t live at altitude, but man it’s sooooooo much more arid there than in the Midwest!

  15. Altitude Sickness is tough and unpredictable. I didn’t experience it at all the first time I went to a particular high-elevation city, the next time I went I was struck quite badly by it. Your tips are really helpful, keeping hydrated, nixing caffeine and alcohol and eating slow energy-release foods are simple and easy to do. Giving yourself time to acclimatise helps, though can be tricky for those on tighter itineraries.

      1. I am honestly horrified for my trip to Dillon. We booked a hotel for one night in Denver as we heard it helps acclimate(we’re coming from Florida). Got ginkgo baloba, iron and garlic for supplements (as I read they help) and then have hydration packets for our water to replenish electrolytes. Sunscreen as well (Floridians are familiar with that!). I really want to enjoy this week long trip but am truly terrified altitude sickness will ruin it.

        1. Hi Tiffany! Good job being so prepared for your trip. There is quite an altitude difference between Florida and Colorado. Remember, the key is to listen to your body. If you start to feel off, don’t push it. Take it easy, hydrate, and maybe indulge in a salty snack to balance those electrolytes. I hope you have an amazing trip to Dillon, and that the only breathtaking moments are the views, not the altitude!

  16. I can vouch for these tips 1st hand. Last year in Alaska, I hiked 7,000 ft above sea level and boy did I feel it! I had quite a bit of water with me, but I sure could have used that banana. Food is extremely important when higher above sea level than you are use to!

    1. Oh, man, hiking at 7,000 feet about sea level is W-A-Y more studly than anything I do. When I hike at altitude, it’s in the mountains near my parents (around 5,000 feet) or in Salt Lake City (about the same altitude). But even when I’m sitting in meetings in Salt Lake City, it’s amazing how much a banana or handful of almonds can do to combat an altitude headache when it hits!

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