If there’s one thing Denver residents are known for, it’s living high.
As in, high altitude, of course!
Denver is located a full 5,280 feet above sea level, which means the atmosphere around us is very different to that on the sand and surf. Here’s how the elevation change affects our lives, from driving to cooking to breathing, sun tanning and more!
How does Denver’s elevation affect us?
Why does high elevation affect us?
If you’ve ever swam to the bottom of a deep pool, you’re familiar with that aching pressure you’ll feel in your ears and on your chest. That pressure is all that water pushing down on you, and the deeper you go, the more water is squashing you.
Imagine our atmosphere as a huge ocean of air, and we live toward the very bottom of it (forget about the actual ocean for a minute). That atmospheric ocean is miles and miles deep, and we are used to living under the insane pressure of it all day in and day out. In fact, in most places in the world we’re carrying around 14.7 pounds of pressure per square inch — a weight equivalent to being 33 below the ocean all the time.
That’s a lot of pressure!
Atmospheric pressure decreases as elevation increases, just like swimming toward the surface of a pool decreases the pressure of the water. Changes in pressure affect the way heat is transferred, how much oxygen is available and how much water is in the air, all of which can affect our lives significantly.
Here in the Mile-High City of Denver we experience 5,280 feet of elevation which, though it doesn’t feel too different, is just enough to affect certain parts of our life.
Effects of mile-high elevation
If you’ve struggled with tried-and-true recipes since moving to Denver or have been advised to change to high-elevation baking practices, then you’re already aware of the effect that high elevation has on such a simple thing as cooking and baking!
We already talked about how atmospheric pressure changes as elevation increases, so it makes sense that the scientific processes involved in baking are also affected.
Here’s what happens. When you bake something in the oven or boil water on the stove, the air pressure of your environment is helping to to distribute heat and air through the substance. The more pressure there is, the faster heat can distribute through the thing you’re baking.
That means water will boil at a lower temperature, so you’ll have to boil your spaghetti for longer than you would at lower elevations before it’s perfectly al dente. More moisture will evaporate, too, as higher elevations are typically drier than most and will pull more water into the air, so your food (especially meat products) might be dry unless you cover it to retain moisture.
If you’re baking something in the oven that’s intended to rise — such as cake, bread, cookies, cupcakes and the like — then you’ll have to use less leavening agent so that it doesn’t, as Paul Hollywood would say, overprove.
You may feel the effects of altitude most significantly in your breathing, especially as you experience fast and shallow breaths with little relief. Your first workouts and hikes here in the Front Range probably felt much harder than they were!
When we breathe in a gulp of air, our lungs absorb the oxygen in the air and run it through our blood to all our vital organs. As we breathe out, our lungs release some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that's produced in our bodies back into the air. A good balance of both oxygen and CO2 helps our blood, brain and organs function properly.
There’s less oxygen at higher elevations because there’s less pressure keeping those oxygen molecules concentrated together, which is why we tend to take faster and shallower breaths at high altitudes. We breathe faster because our lungs are trying to make up for the missing oxygen, and we end up expelling more CO2 than we’re used to. Not getting enough oxygen means our blood gets thicker and more viscous, making it hard for our heart to pump it all through our body. All this can leave us tired, lightheaded and weary until we get used to the changes in oxygen and our bodies produce the proper balance of CO2.
By the way, this also affects your pets, and unlike us they can’t let a friend know that they’re coming down with a mild case of altitude sickness. Be extra careful if you're driving them up Pike Peak or taking them on a long, strenuous hike in the Rockies.
Wear your sunscreen if you’re in the mountains! Yes, even during the gray, wintery days.
Because you’re closer to the top of the atmospheric ocean, the sun’s rays have less atmosphere to travel through to reach your skin. This means more concentrated and powerful UV rays that can be 8-10% more powerful than they would be at sea level!
Though the sun’s UV rays increase in strength as you increase in elevation, temperature tends to do the opposite.
Because there’s less pressure in higher elevations, air molecules aren’t as dense as they would be in lower elevations. Temperature, of course, is measured by how fast air molecules are moving around each other; if there’s a lot of space between those air molecules (because air expands in lower pressures), then the temperature is also lower.
A car’s engine requires three things to create combustion: oxygen, fuel and a spark. If there’s not enough of any of them, then the engine won’t run as efficiently.
Well, at higher elevations there is less oxygen which, in turn, means your car’s engine will be more sluggish. You may notice the engine performance goes down, or you’re using more fuel than normal. You may even see your average MPG drop. This is all thanks to the lack of oxygen in the air coming in through the air intake.
There are ways around this, thankfully, especially if you're looking to keep your car as efficient as possible (while also making your fuel go farther). Turbochargers and superchargers both take the air that’s about to go into the engine and compress it into a denser form that has more oxygen, returning your engine to its optimal performance. Cool, huh?
Who would have thought that living in Denver could change so many little things? Luckily, though, if you live in our luxury Denver apartments then you’re in the best hands possible and are sure to be a pro at this whole mile-high living thing in no time!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Gypsy6