Up where the air is rare

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer

This past Saturday, we returned from a 2000-mile round-trip journey to bring our youngest daughter home after a successful 1st year of college.  Since we had the time, my husband and I chose to take the long, winding scenic road out to North Carolina.  We explored the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, over the course of 3 days, before arriving at Jillian’s dorm room.

Perhaps because I had been so focused on embracing our youngest, having missed her very much these past 9 months, I neglected to appropriately prepare for the “vacation” portion of our trip.  As we ascended the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then set out on foot to experience the view from 6000 feet, we both began to notice how labored our breathing was becoming!  Knowing we are both athletic and well-conditioned, it took us a few minutes to realize what was occurring: exercising at an altitude that high is vastly different from working out in St. Louis!

Aerobic performance can best be measured in terms of VO2 max–the maximum amount of oxygen that one’s body can consume. This value is directly proportional to the amount of work or exercise the body is performing.   Due to the reduced pressure of oxygen at high altitudes, one’s VO2 max is lowered, which in turn diminishes work capacity.

Had we thought this through in advance, it might have been prudent to do some training aimed specifically at increasing our VO2 max. Working aerobically at 70-85% of maximal heart rate, for 30-60 minutes 3-5 days a week, coupled with some high-intensity interval training, would have been ideal.  Even though our climb was not too long, appropriate advance training might have lessened our labored breathing, and is good advice for any individuals seeking to embark on a hiking adventure.

The view from the top of the mountain range was indeed magnificent….but not as thrilling as seeing Jillian’s face light up at the end of her last final exam.  Happy Summer Vacation!