Filed under: Illness
Altitude affects what your body needs and how it responds, especially when it comes to exercise. Acute mountain sickness (AMS)—caused by dry air, a decrease in oxygen, and low barometric pressure—can severely impact your health and performance. The good news is there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of altitude sickness.
Performing physical activity—whether you’re at the gym or on a mission—at moderate (4,000–7,900 ft or 1,200–2,400 m) and high (7,900–13,000 ft or 2,400–4,000 m) altitudes can be challenging. At high altitude, oxygen pressure is significantly lower, which results in less oxygen in the blood and muscle tissues. And as altitude increases, there’s also a decrease in air temperature (about 2°F for every 500 ft or 150 m), less moisture (resulting in drier air), and increased solar radiation. AMS can affect anyone who is unacclimatized and ascends too rapidly to high altitudes. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, sleep problems, shortness of breath, dehydration, and impaired cognition and balance.
The risk and severity of altitude sickness are greater above 4,000 meters, and treatment might require evacuation to lower altitude or immediate medical attention. To reduce your risk of AMS, wear sunscreen, drink water, and try to limit your physical activity at altitude for the first 24 hours. Acclimate to moderate elevations (2,000–3,000 m), if possible.
With current and future military operations in mountainous regions, the issue of AMS is a serious concern. However, leaders can help manage and perhaps prevent AMS among Warfighters by being aware of the elevation, types of activities, and lengths of stay at altitudes. Visit HPRC’s Altitude section to learn more about performance at altitude.
An adverse event from a dietary supplement is any undesirable health effect you might experience. It could be mild or life threatening. It’s important to know how to recognize symptoms that might impact readiness. To learn how, read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ on adverse events, which also has a link to a form for reporting adverse events to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. All forms are then sent to FDA. Documenting adverse events is an essential part of how the FDA evaluates potentially dangerous dietary supplements.
Manufacturers and distributors also are required to notify FDA of adverse events by calling the 800 telephone number located on product labels.
Is it safe to exercise when you’re sick? Those who have strict workout schedules aren’t likely to let the sniffles get in the way of their physical fitness. Exercise benefits include better weight control, improved mood, more energy, and healthier sleep. What’s more, just 30 minutes of regular exercise 5 times each week can improve your heart health and boost your immune system too.
Moderately exercising while you’re sick can be safe and, in certain cases, might actually improve symptoms such as congestion and low-energy. First, you need to determine “how sick is sick.” You can figure this out by using the “neck rule.” If you have symptoms above the neck—including sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, or watery eyes—then moderate workouts can continue. If your symptoms are below the neck—including cough, fever, fatigue, or body aches—then rest until the symptoms are gone. You can also use your temperature to determine whether exercising is okay. If you have a temperature of 101°F or higher, moderate or vigorous exercise isn’t safe due to risks of heat-related illnesses and dehydration.
Ultimately, the decision to exercise when you’re sick is up to you. If you’re too weak and fatigued to get out of bed, exercising might not be the best choice. If you have symptoms of a cold and your temperature is below 101°F, light to moderate exercise could be good for you. Make sure to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse.
Each year, the average adult catches 2–3 colds lasting 7–9 days each. That’s almost an entire month—YIKES! What you eat and drink each day can impact your body’s resistance to sickness. Want to keep the doctor away? Eat 9 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily.
Choosing nutritious foods when you’re sick shortens the number of days you feel badly and helps you feel better while you’re recovering. Here are some tips to help you get well soon:
- Grab a mug of chicken soup to clear your head and soothe your throat.
- Drink tea (black, green or white) to break up chest congestion and stay hydrated. Tea also contains a group of antioxidants, which could boost overall immunity.
- Take a spoonful of honey before bedtime to quiet a cough. You could also add honey and lemon juice to one cup of boiling water. (Not for kids under one year of age.)
These recommendations might have previously been considered folklore or old wives’ tales, but science now shows that Grandma knew best!