Are You Too Fat to Dive? | Scuba Diving

Are You Too Fat to Dive?

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Overweight divers put themselves and others at risk

By Patrick Roward

It’s been one year since your last vacation. You’ve worked hard and now you can’t wait to arrive in Key West and dive the USS Vandenberg. You’re on the dive boat heading out for the dive when you’re asked to buddy up with a guy who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. You think to yourself, If something goes wrong and this guy goes into cardiac arrest at depth, will I be physically able to help him? Or worse: If something goes wrong with my dive, will this person be physically able to help me?

Obesity is defined as an excessive amount of body fat greater than 25 percent in men and 35 percent in women. Another measurement to determine body composition is called a Body Mass Index, or BMI. A BMI is used to assess weight relative to height, and can help determine whether an individual is obese, overweight or underweight.

A DAN study, “Classification of DAN Recreational Diver Fatalities by BMI from 2002, 2003 and 2004,” showed that at its worst, divers with a BMI of 30 or greater — which is considered obese — made up 53 percent of the dive-related deaths, whereas divers with a normal or healthy BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 made up only 13 percent of these deaths. Still, the issue isn’t just about being obese, but the health-related problems that obesity can cause and how these health issues can affect divers. It has been documented that obesity places a person at a significantly increased risk for hypertension (high blood pressure), Type II diabetes, excess levels of serum cholesterol, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

“Prudent dieting and regular exercise should go hand-in-hand for divers,” according to a 1999 DAN report, “Cardiovascular Fitness and Diving.” “Older individuals who take part in recreational diving and have a family history of heart attack, especially at an early age, should receive appropriate evaluations to detect early signs of coronary artery disease.” In DAN’s “Diabetes and Diving — Update 2005,” it’s written that “individuals with Type II diabetes have generally been excluded from scuba diving because a possible loss of consciousness might pose a significant risk, affecting the diver’s ability to take care of himself/herself or his/her dive partner.”

What does all of this tell us? It tells us that, normally, scuba diving is a fun and relaxing activity, but that on occasion catastrophic events can and do take place. When these events happen, every diver should be able to take care of himself and his dive partner.

I believe it’s the responsibility of every diver to keep as healthy as possible. By allowing yourself to gain excess body fat and fall into poor health, you’re not only placing yourself in danger, but also your dive buddy and every diver who chooses to come to your aid if a problem should occur. If you choose to let your weight get out of control, then you also have to decide whether a day in the water is really worth your life or the life of other divers.

An exercise physiologist, Patrick Roward has more than 20 years working in the field of health and fitness, with the majority of his experience in cardiac rehabilitation, strength and conditioning of athletes, and health promotion.

It’s not a matter of weight, it’s a matter of fitness

By Marc Weiss

**** I love to scuba dive and have ever since I received my Open Water certification in 1995. Since that time, I’ve done 1,500-plus dives in some of the best diving destinations around the world. I am also 6 feet tall and weigh 265 lbs. By standard definitions I’m an overweight diver.

For several years I’ve worked out routinely with a personal trainer, focusing on strength training, and have had great improvements in strength and endurance — along with weight loss — from those efforts. On my off-training days I try to spend time on the treadmill working on my cardio, while watching some of my diving videos, but I must admit I don’t get that in as often as I should. Scuba diving is a major motivator for my workouts.

I might be an overweight diver, but I am certainly not an unfit diver. My trainer uses upcoming dive trips to motivate me during workouts. For example, when I told him I was going to Bonaire and planned to do many shore dives, we concentrated more on leg workouts to make it easier for me to do the entries and exits in my full gear, which includes lugging along my underwater video system.

I believe all divers need to dive within their training, experience, skill, comfort and fitness levels. I always consider these elements myself when I plan my dives. I also focus on this when I’m teaching any diving student.

I’ve seen many divers — both overweight and “normal” weight — who appear to be unfit to dive based on the above criteria. From my experience, it’s very difficult to tell from looking at the divers whether they are fit enough to dive.

During my two most recent trips aboard Aggressor live-aboards, I encountered examples of both types of divers. On one trip there were a couple of overweight divers (we’re easy to identify on the dive boats!) who had some of the best buoyancy skills I’ve ever seen, incredibly good air consumption and were great at finding all kinds of cool things on the dives. During our surface intervals, I learned they both had rigorous workout routines yet struggled with their weight, something I could certainly relate to.

On another trip there were several “normal” weight people who needed assistance getting their equipment to and from the dive platform due to a variety of knee, back and hip problems. In the water they were great divers, and out of the water very fun people to spend a week aboard a live-aboard.

I recently had a student who was barely able to pass his swim and treading water test, but he did complete the requirements with great difficulty. This student was also able to barely master other skills required to complete his confined water training. I recommended the student work with a trainer to improve endurance and overall strength for diving. No, this student wasn’t overweight, but he was unfit for diving.

From my experience, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh. What matters is whether you are fit to dive.

Marc Weiss is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, U.S. Coast Guard Master Captain and award-winning underwater videographer.

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