With an ever-increasing 50+ population and advances in medicine, many of us pick new hobbies or continue old favorites. While some sports may remain better suited for youth, scuba diving and advancing age are perfectly compatible as long as you keep these 13 things in mind.
1. Basic Good Health Is Required
Age alone doesn’t increase the inherent risks of scuba diving. But health conditions that accompany old age, like a relatively minor heart issue that may make you feel faint on land, could be deadly while diving.
First things first: Talk to your physician to confirm you’re healthy enough to dive. The earlier you start, the easier it will be to build a solid foundation of health you can maintain well into old age.
2. Maintain Your Strength And Endurance
As we age, our bone mass and muscle strength decrease. Not only does scuba diving involve hauling quite a bit of heavy gear, but you’ll be swimming for 40 to 60 minutes at a time.
For the best of both worlds, you’ll combine strength training and cardiovascular training. Maintain your muscle strength with gentle weightlifting and the use of bands. Keep to a healthy body weight by combining a balanced diet with regular exercise (which you’ll want to do to be ready to dive again anyway). Keep your cardiovascular health in excellent condition by checking your blood pressure regularly and seeing your physician about any concerns. And remember: This combination maintains not only the strength you need to dive, but your bone density too, reducing your risk of fracture.
3. Get Regular Health Checkups
Making good lifestyle choices and taking your medicines as prescribed by your physician usually make diving safely possible.
Talk to your doctor about how often you should be examined. Whether it’s your blood pressure, your blood sugar, your vision … or even getting to the dentist to make sure any bridges or dentures fit properly, having these tasks done before you leave for a dive trip can prevent inconveniences or a real problem that would prevent you from diving at all.
If you can’t find a physician in your community that is familiar with the intricacies of scuba diving, reach out to the scuba diving network physicians at the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society.
As a physician, I can tell you what I recommend to my patients who want to start or continue diving:
- Eat healthy
- Exercise regularly
- Practice prevention
It’s a great formula for a healthy and long life.
4. See The Optometrist
Eyesight typically deteriorates with age, so it’s important to get your eyes checked regularly. If you wear glasses, order your prescription scuba mask well in advance. If you wear contacts, plan to purchase two masks: one prescription, one not. That way, you’ll be prepared when you want to wear your contacts but can’t.
5. Do Not Smoke
Regardless of age, your health is negatively impacted by smoking.
6. Follow The “Must-Not” List
There are several things you simply must not do after a dive because they can affect the way your body eliminates nitrogen and can cause decompression sickness. It’s important to know them in advance.
- Do not fly too soon after a dive. The wait time varies depending on how long you’ve been at depth.
- Do not mountain climb after a dive. If you plan to do both in one day, mountain climb first.
- Do not zip line. Avoid higher altitudes after a dive.
- Do not drink alcohol to excess: none at all before diving, and not to excess after.
7. Leave Adequate Time To Train
When you’re preparing for your scuba certification initially, plan to schedule at least two weeks to complete your certification coursework and initial (swimming pool) dive time before your trip. While some resorts can give you an introductory dive in a day, you’ll want to be certified with PADI or another group if you’re serious about pursuing regular dive trips. It takes about 40 hours of classroom and homework for the first section and then a specified number of dives in the swimming pool (contained dives) and in open water. Don’t try to call someone last minute … say, a week before you leave for the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. You’re likely to be disappointed.
Once you’re certified, you’ll always be diving with a buddy (or two). Under water, you only have each other, so know your limitations and those of your partners. Be sure to discuss the dive plan with your buddy following the dive briefing. This is especially true if one of you is hard of hearing. Let the dive master know if this is the case. You won’t want to miss important information about direction, timing, depth, water conditions, and safety factors.
When it comes right down to it, whoever is “weaker” in a particular category has the dive adjusted to their level. Remember to always follow your instructor’s directions and you’ll do great.
8. Control Your Breath
The first rule of scuba diving is to breathe continuously while never holding your breath. Slow and steady breaths make the air last longer in our tanks, provide a tranquil state of mind, and foster a positive attitude.
9. Mitigate Your Risks
Diving does entail some risk. Decompression sickness, air embolism, and drowning can all occur. The most common injury to divers is ear barotrauma. If you try to dive when you’re congested, it’s unlikely your ears will be able to equilibrate easily on the descent. Don’t dive if you have a significant headache, cough, or congestion. By remaining vigilant, you can have a safe and successful dive or a nice day at the beach so you’re healthy to dive on the next day.
10. Travel To Warmer Climates
Dive travel is awesome. While adrenaline junkies may want to dive with sharks, others may slow down to focus on pursuits like photography. I’ve already learned to prefer the warmer water and good visibility in Belize or Bonaire over the cold-water diving in the mine pits of Minnesota.
Some of the most popular places to dive include Australia, Egypt, Honduras, Belize, Thailand, Bonaire, South Africa, the Galapagos Islands, and the U.S.A.
Taking a break from work and the usual strain of daily life reduces stress. And meeting people from other cultures with whom you share a passion remains one of the best ways to connect and make lifelong friends.
11. Remember The Benefits Of Scuba Diving
The ability to visit divine sunny locales is but one of the many benefits of scuba diving. Medically, it improves blood circulation, increases lung capacity, reduces blood pressure, and increases the strength and flexibility of your muscles. Mentally, it relieves stress, raises energy levels, and improves concentration capacity. Emotionally, it allows you to connect with your group of family or friends and have the sense of belonging to the extended scuba community.
Participation in social and physical activities can help reduce the chance of developing anxiety or depression, while at the same time improving your cognitive functions. Whether learning a new skill or staying sharp with dive information, your “brain muscle” works hard for you.
12. Enjoy The Half Of The World Most People Miss
The word “scuba,” coined by Dr. Christian Lambersen in 1954, is an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The development of the equipment for public use allows all of us to experience the pure wonder and awe of interacting with hundreds of species of amazing marine creatures in unique landscapes. And seeing the variety of colors of fish and coral can have an uplifting effect on our moods and emotions. Exposure to blue light, we now know, has a calming, soothing effect. Within a few meters of the water’s surface, most of the red has been filtered out of the light spectrum. That leaves blue as the primary color.
13. Rediscover Joy
Studies have shown that the anticipation you feel towards a trip can prolong the feel-good factor immensely. That’s why so many people benefit from having their next trip planned. Whether it’s being on your way to the next dive site, anticipating what you’re going to see or experience, or the camaraderie of whomever you meet and quickly bond with on the dive boat, it’s a glorious thing.
If you dive smart, stay healthy, stay fit, properly prepare, and follow your doctor’s advice, scuba will keep you in great shape while offering incredible experiences. Get out there and dive.