There are moments when scuba diving feels effortless: drifting over a shallow reef or descending through clear water toward a sandy bottom. But diving can also be strenuous — when swimming against a current or trudging to a dive site loaded down with gear, for example. In these situations divers must be physically able to both handle themselves and assist their dive buddies if necessary.
What Does Fitness for Diving Mean?
When determining fitness to dive, a physician may weigh several factors, including the diver’s:
- Training and experience
- Current exercise regimen
- Overall health
- Diving location (water temperature and possible weather and sea conditions)
- Type of diving (boat or shore)
A diver who is fit to dive from a boat in tropical water may not be fit to shore-dive in cold water. Similarly, an older diver who maintains a healthy weight but lacks physical strength might be better off avoiding diving in more challenging conditions. Ideally, every diver should maintain a healthy weight and exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. At a minimum, divers need the strength and cardiovascular capacity to successfully manage scenarios such as:
- Swimming against a current
- Towing a dive buddy on the surface
- Helping another diver out of the water
Some divers think of scuba diving as a workout. But diving in the absence of other exercise is not considered sufficient for maintaining an appropriate level of fitness.
Risks for Divers Who Are Not Physically Fit
Divers who are not physically fit risk not only their own lives but their dive buddies’ lives as well. When moments matter, a dive partner should be able to help a fellow diver back to shore or onto a boat to receive first aid.
There is not a clear correlation between obesity and a greater risk of decompression illness (DCI), but divers who are overweight are at greater risk for cardiac emergencies. The most recent Divers Alert Network® (DAN®) Annual Diving Report found that 74 percent of divers involved in fatal dive accidents were overweight or obese (in cases where the victim’s body mass index was known).
Getting Fit to Dive
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults engage in 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week and engage in muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups two or more days per week. Choosing a mix of activities prevents boredom, and finding a workout buddy can make exercise more fun.
Some exercise is better than none at all, and workouts don’t have to take place in a gym. Walking and swimming are two of the numerous alternatives to exercising in a gym. Swimming can help divers improve their stamina for surface swims, and an analysis by researchers at University College London that studied nearly half a million people for an average of 11 years found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular emergencies by 31 percent.
All divers are encouraged to see their physician for regular check-ups. Divers 45 and older should get a dive physical including a cardiac stress test every year. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer for people age 45 years and older, and a dive physical can detect serious health problems such as high blood pressure before it’s too late.