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The Daily Stretch for Divers

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

A daily stretch for divers contributes to good flexibility, which is important not only for diving, but for everyday activity. Flexibility translates into to freedom of movement, helps prevent injury, and improves a diver’s performance and comfort above and below the surface. Flexibility throughout the body involves the muscles, joints and nerves, and is accomplished through stretching and exercise.

Stretching every day is one of the key fitness components when it comes to diving preparation. Not only that, a minimum amount of flexibility is necessary to gain strength. For example, tight hamstring muscles (on the back of the thigh) make it harder to strengthen the quadriceps muscles (on the front of the thigh), which work to extend the knee joint and straighten the leg. Stretching is not a warm-up. Waiting to stretch until just before a dive will make little difference in the moment, and can be detrimental, especially if the diver doesn’t warm up properly and practice a consistent routine of exercise and stretching on non-diving days. The best warm up comes in the form of aerobic movements, involving the body’s large muscles, which warm the muscles and lubricate the joints. A short (10-minute) walk on flat terrain or marching in place for a few minutes may be just enough to get the blood flowing and prepare the body for safe diving activities.

The Daily Stretch for Divers

When it comes to stretching, it’s best to perform your routine on non-diving days and after exercise, and remember to wait 24 hours after diving. Several studies indicate that stretching before certain exercises can cause injury and reduce performance, but stretching after exercise may help reduce muscle soreness from an intense workout. In either case, be sure to warm up as stated above before performing either cardio or strength exercises, including yoga.

The most common type of solo stretching is called “static stretching,” which is safer than other forms of stretching because it occurs slowly and gradually. Once in position, hold the stretch from 10 to 30 seconds with a sensation of pliability — never pull or push through pain. Inhale and exhale deeply while stretching and relax further with each exhale. Perform each stretch twice. Studies show that additional repetitions don’t seem to greatly enhance flexibility as much as frequency, so stretch every day and develop flexibility gradually as part of a fitness program. It may take weeks or months for improvement.

Whether stretching alone or participating in group stretching classes, survey your movements to make sure each muscle is stretched. Perform all exercises on both sides of the body. Stretching may be limited by muscle elasticity, muscle size, tight skin, excessive body fat, joint capsules, ligaments and tendons, and bone changes due to arthritis. Avoid positions where the lower back is vulnerable and use pillows or pads for support and comfort. Straps and towels may be used to extend reach and to make it easier to place the body in certain positions. For example, if divers are not yet able to reach their toes during a hamstring stretch, a strap can be wrapped around the foot to aid in a deeper stretch. During a hamstring stretch, it is important to concentrate on contracting the quadriceps muscles to extend the knee joint and straighten the leg. Remember, adding a strap is meant to assist the stretch, not take place of proper form. Finally, whether in a class or at home, it’s helpful to stretch in front of a mirror to check your body alignment.


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Eating Green on the Go for Diving

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

With brilliant shades such emerald, lime, jade, olive and aqua, just to name a few, green is the most dominant color on our planet. A potent symbol of life, the presence of green indicates perhaps the most biologically productive portions of the Earth’s surface. Green symbolizes the coming of spring and a love of nature, and, as divers, we especially appreciate the beauty of the green outdoors in our land and water environments. Guess what — green is good for divers on the inside, too. The nutrients found in green foods, such as vegetables, fruits and algae, help maintain good health, prevent disease, help prepare the body to deal with the physiological stresses and effects of pressure at depth, and improve diver performance. Have we changed your mind about eating green yet?

The Big Three: Celery, Cucumbers, and Broccoli

Let’s start with a few green vegetables from a standard veggie tray that might be served on a dive boat. If not, these are easy to take with you. Celery, cucumber and broccoli can be enjoyed raw; they are easy to wash and package for snacks on the go; and they support your body during diving. And all three of these low-calorie veggies help divers stay hydrated. Cucumber has the highest water content of any solid food at almost 97 percent; celery follows at 95 percent; and broccoli is almost 91 percent water, along with plenty of fiber to help you feel full. Celery has only six calories per stalk; cucumber has 16 calories per cup; and broccoli has 11 calories per spear.

When it comes to nutrition, these three are powerhouses as well. Celery contains more than a dozen antioxidant nutrients and is a natural anti-inflammatory, especially in the digestive tract. It also protects the body from oxidative damage to its cells, blood vessels and organ systems. It is best to consume fresh celery within five to seven days of purchase and to cut it just before eating.

Cucumbers are known to contain nutritional properties that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate cancers. Cucumbers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, contain vitamin C, beta-carotene and manganese. Cucumbers are best when refrigerated during storage. The skin and seeds can be enjoyed, but avoid the wax found on some cucumbers by scrubbing or peeling.

Finally, properties in broccoli help prevent cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and allergies, and help enzymes in your liver eliminate toxins from the body. Broccoli may be enjoyed raw or steamed, but avoid microwaving it to retain nutrients. Better yet, broccoli sprouts contain 20 times more beneficial nutrients than broccoli. They taste better, are easy to add to salads, and help reduce inflammation in the upper airways.

Don’t Skip the Salad

Speaking of salads, divers can almost always find a wide variety of salads at dive resorts, on restaurant menus, and — in southern California — even on dive boats. To boost your intake of healthy greens, skip the iceberg lettuce and choose salads made with romaine, leaf lettuces, kale and spinach. These leafy greens have much more flavor and are packed with nutrients that support detoxification of the body, enzymes that aid in digesting protein foods, and loads of calcium and potassium. But don’t stop here — get creative with your salads and try watercress, avocado, sunflower, bean and other sprouts, snap peas and cabbage.

Steaming is the best way to prepare most kinds of cooked green vegetables. Artichokes, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and green beans are particularly delicious when steamed. Adding greens to soups and stews is another way to eat your vegetables with the benefit of flavor from other ingredients such as proteins, beans and potatoes. Juices or smoothies are another great way to get your greens on the go, since most are made with a combination of green vegetables and apple, carrot or beet juice to sweeten and improve taste. Juices can be purchased ready-made or prepared fresh at home and carried in an insulated lunch box.

Last but not least, superfood powders that blend nutrient-rich spirulina, wheatgrass, alfalfa and more can be added to juices. And, if you are ready to go hard core, try fresh seaweed in sushi or seaweed salad. Bon Appetit, and enjoy your greens!


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Hiking Helps Divers Stay in Shape

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Staying active topside helps keep divers healthy underwater, and one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to do so is to get outdoors on a hike. Near home, community parks often offer trail systems around local waterways, such as lagoons and lakes, through wildlife preserves and across picturesque cityscapes. When traveling, many dive destinations offer opportunities to hike lush tropical forests, coastal trails and volcanoes. Hikes may be conducted with groups and guides for interests such as bird watching, and are often combined with other recreational activities such as camping and kayaking.

Hiking and Diving

Hiking and diving are similar in their use of multiple muscle groups, movements associated with wearing backpacks like scuba tanks, the handling of gear, traversing uneven terrain and the feel-good experience of being close to nature. And, just like a favorite pair of fins, a well broken-in pair of trail shoes or hiking boots is a must.

But hiking and diving are quite different too. Although many aspects of hiking resemble diving, hiking gets all the credit for producing the adaptive physical responses of training and improved fitness, which are precluded at depth when diving. When climbing and descending mountain trails, aerobic endurance improves with steady increases in heart rate for longer periods of time. When hiking, the lower body, in particular, is strengthened with repetitive exertion using the muscles of the legs, back, hips and torso. Hiking provides big crossover benefits for divers.

Hiking on dive vacations takes a bit of planning. First, it’s important to remember to avoid physical exertion and higher altitudes for 24 hours after diving, and diving at high altitudes requires special training as well. Divers are also trained to avoid exertion at depth to reduce risks associated with decompression sickness. If planning to combine strenuous hiking with diving, it’s best to prepare a few months in advance, hiking and exercising more vigorously on dry land to establish and maintain physical fitness for all activities.

Practice Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers are a great exercise to help divers prepare for both hiking and diving, and since no special equipment is necessary, they may be performed in a gym, at home or outdoors. Begin in the straight-arm plank position. The plank itself is a foundational exercise, and holding the position for just one minute at a time helps strengthen arms, abs, chest and low back. It’s also a good static exercise for divers with shoulder conditions that preclude push-ups. The straight-arm plank becomes a mountain climber when the knees are alternately and repetitively pulled to the torso as shown. Mountain climbers may be performed for a full minute or divers can count repetitions, doing sets to equal about a minute of work at a time. To perform mountain climbers correctly, contract the abs when pulling the knee toward the torso; keep the upper body as still as possible; keep hands in place; and try not to raise the hips out of this inline spinal position. Alternate legs at a steady pace, using good form. If possible, perform mountain climbers quickly but make certain that one foot is on the floor at all times. Alternating legs should emulate climbing, not hopping.  Performing exercises like mountain climbers a few times a week, along with practicing a generally healthy lifestyle and other exercise, will help both hiking and diving become easier and more enjoyable activities. 

Copyright Gretchen M. Ashton


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Avoiding Dry Mouth When Diving

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Suffering from a dry mouth when diving is primarily the result of mouth-breathing dry, compressed air; water vapor, which usually moisturizes our breath, is removed when air is compressed into scuba cylinders. Divers using full-face masks get a reprieve because they can breathe through both the nose and the mouth. As a result, the air inside the mask is a bit warmer, but still dry and compressed. Some claim that breathing nitrox prevents dry mouth, but the air is still cold and dry. Rebreather divers have the biggest advantage since the chemical reaction that removes the carbon dioxide from the diver’s exhaled breath warms and humidifies the air.

How to prevent dry mouth when diving

Beyond the characteristics and distinctions between diving equipment, proper hydration is the first step in preventing dry mouth when diving. This may be an easy solution for most divers, as good hydration is already one of the best practices for diving. The challenge when it comes to preventing dry mouth is to be well hydrated not only while diving but also days in advance. As a reminder, ample fluids are needed to replace fluid loss from breathing dry gases and immersion diuresis. Fluids are also necessary to support bodily functions that help regulate body temperature, prevent decompression sickness, fatigue and narcosis. On diving days, begin early in the day by drinking at least ½-liter of cold water two to three hours before diving and continue to drink one liter per hour throughout the day and during diving activities. Other ways to reduce fluid loss and help prevent dry mouth are to avoid caffeine from coffee and sodas, limit alcohol and marijuana, and avoid smoking and diving.

The most popular, simple solutions for relief from dry mouth include sucking on hard candies, chewing gum, eating fresh fruit (especially citrus) between dives, drinking fluids underwater, and rinsing the mouth with water or over-the-counter remedies and mouth sprays. Some of the most interesting home remedies are rinsing the mouth with coconut oil or water and pepper, such as cayenne and placing mint toothpaste on the regulator mouth piece. More involved but preferred by some divers are moisture-replenishment systems that integrate with hoses and regulator systems, which have built-in moisture-retention design. Maintaining a good level of physical fitness helps divers develop steady, relaxed breathing patterns that may reduce the frequency of inhaling and exhaling through the mouth, which result in increased loss of fluids and contribute to dry mouth.

Medical causes for dry mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh) is often a side effect of medications or damage to the salivary glands from illness or treatments such as radiation therapy for cancer. Dry mouth is commonly associated with diabetes, which is prevalent in the diving community. It is also a precursor to bacterial, viral and fungal infections. If dry mouth persists it is important to follow up with a physician to determine the reason and resolve it before it leads to other conditions, such as tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath or loss of taste and appetite. Solutions for these causes of dry mouth may focus more on stimulating the salivary glands. Saliva helps neutralize acids, limit bacterial growth, rinse away food, and aids in swallowing and digestion. Using CPAP machines and exercising with the mouth open can also cause dry mouth, so make a conscious effort to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth to help prevent dry mouth when exercising.

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The Healthy Heart Workout for Divers

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Research demonstrates that breathing through the mouth rather than the nose adds to the stresses placed upon a diver, because the diver already has to work harder at simply breathing through a regulator. This is called the “work of breathing.” When we add the additional physical stress of breathing gases, psychological stresses, i.e., feeling of shortness of breath or breathlessness, appear as well. Cold temperatures also increase the energy costs associated with oxygen utilization throughout the body. Respiratory limitations of divers at depth may require increased respiratory rates. Finding a healthy heart workout for divers is key to alleviating these stressors.

On land, the limiting factor to the amount of work that a body can do is usually the cardiovascular system or the heart. Underwater, the limiting factor is probably the respiratory system, so divers who maintain a good level of cardiorespiratory fitness reduce the risks associated with scuba diving and improve overall diving performance. The purpose of cardiorespiratory fitness is to maintain and improve the efficiency of the heart, lungs and vascular system. Cardiorespiratory fitness is achieved through aerobic exercise.

A Healthy Heart Workout for Divers

Based on a review of reported medical conditions by scuba divers, heart disease, cardiovascular illness and high blood pressure are the most prevalent health concerns. The good news is that aerobic exercise helps to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and may help repair the damage from smoking.

It’s easy to understand why aerobic exercise is a necessary fitness component for scuba divers. Positive results of an aerobic program, such as easier execution of daily activities, are apparent within weeks. However, the benefits of aerobic exercise diminish dramatically in as little as two weeks of inactivity. The best results are achieved when aerobic exercise is performed consistently as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Aerobic exercise is any activity that creates and utilizes greater oxygen demand by moving primarily the large muscles of the body, repeatedly and rhythmically, at a particular intensity beyond the usual activity of rest or relaxation. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, jogging, running, swimming, rowing, cycling, jumping rope, aerobics classes and dancing. Aerobic exercise may be performed outdoors almost anywhere; fitness centers and gyms provide plenty of equipment such as treadmills, stair climbers, ellipticals and exercise bikes as well.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for at least 30 minutes for a total of 150 minutes; or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week for additional health benefits. For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, the AHA recommends an average of 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three or four times per week. As divers, our sport may not be aerobic, but participating in a healthy heart workout will help keep us fit both on land and underwater.

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