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Looking After Number One

Diving can be great for your general health. For those of us who find tramping along a treadmill a little on the dull side, this is one way in which you can exercise without the high impact of many sports. Some find that diving alone is enough work to keep off those extra few pounds they neither want nor need. If you think about it, every move you make whilst on a dive, is done against the resistance of water, and that gentle finning action will keep your legs toned without even realising it. Even the fact that your body's metabolism has to go into overdrive just to keep warm, will burn up a fair few extra calories a day. A bit like a skiing holiday, many people come back from a week's diving to find that they feel a little fitter and a little more toned. And even better, whilst all this is happening, you are totally oblivious to the fact that you are exercising, as you are completely distracted by what you are seeing under the waves! What with trying to keep up with manta rays, or having to work against that bit of current to stay still whilst you watch that turtle munching, we are totally absorbed by the beauty of what we are seeing.

So… what if you are doing a lot of diving, is that safe? Are there any health issues and what can I do to prevent injury?

Before I go any further please remember we are not doctors here, so should you have any specific health concerns we strongly advise that you pay your doctor a visit. You should also consult your doctor if you are going to make any major changes to your diet or exercise routine.

So what are the risks of recreational diving? I guess the main potential injury areas are decompression sickness (DCS), lung over expansion injuries and ear barotrauma.

Keeping yourself generally fit and healthy will certainly keep your circulatory system working well and therefore help prevent the DCS. As will keeping hydrated and well rested. In fact here in Sharm, I cannot stress the hydration aspect enough. Aside from the DCS risks, you can find yourself feeling well and truly rotten and sick simply through dehydration. Diving pretty much sucks the moisture out of your system, and if you are in a dry, hot country, that effect is doubled. Rehydration salts really do help out as a prevention as well as a cure, and once you have dissolved the sachet in a little in room temperature water, if you top up with refrigerated water and close your eyes, it actually tastes a little like cold milk. Bear in mind that a hangover is merely the symptoms of dehydration brought on by too much alcohol (yeah, I know, you are really calling me a kill joy now!). Ok let's face it, you are not likely to abstain completely on your holiday, but do try to replace your liquids by drinking plenty of water (and maybe add some rehydration salts) after you've had alcohol.

With regards to your circulatory system, we need this to be working fully in order to aid the passage of nitrogen out of our system once we have loaded it during a dive. So being generally fit, ensures that your heart is healthy. Having a diet full of fruit, veg and protein that is low in saturated fat will help keep your arteries clear too. Another thing you can do to really really help yourself, is to keep yourself hydrated.

Ok another boring bit here, we all know that smoking is not good for us, but even more so with diving. It increases the risk of lung over expansion injury (the inner surface of your lungs to put it bluntly, become more tacky if you smoke), as well as giving you a nice rise in your carbon monoxide levels for several hours, which combined with diving, forces your circulatory system to work harder than it needs. Added to all this, it also clogs up the arteries making the system work even harder than it needs to. There you go... lecture over.

So to the prevention of barotrauma, which literally means pressure injury, and I am using it here in specific relation to our ears. I guess whilst not life-threatening, this is probably the first thing that a new diver will notice can hurt! If you forget to equalise, your ears will soon tell you about it. We all know about frequent gentle equalising, but what if that is not working? How do we ensure that we actually can equalise in the first place? I have seen many a holiday ruined because of a cold or through someone actually hurting their ears and having to stay on the surface for the rest of their trip. Sadly with a cold, there is not a lot you can do. There are some long-acting decongestants that can now be used with diving, however they do have risks of their own, and not being a doctor, I am not in a position to recommend these. However I have encountered sticky ears on many an occasion, and there are a few things that you can do that do seem to help. One thing is to drink plenty of warm drinks, especially just before your dive. It doesn't have to be dehydrating coffee, if you are being really good, you can drink herb tea or water (very weak normal tea will also do the trick). This warms up your eustacian tubes which can ease congestion. Also it has been found that chewing gum can help keep your tubes flexible and exercise the muscles that you use for equalisation. The sugar free variety also contains a very mild antibiotic that can also help prevent infection. A healthy diet rich in fruit, veg and protein will also keep your eardrums strong and flexible, again always a good thing.

So whilst that is faaaaar from comprehensive, hopefully there are a few helpful tips there. The more physically fit you are, the easier and safer your diving will be. And don't forget that diving in itself is a great enjoyable form of exercise.

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