Fitness for divers
Are You Really Fit for Diving?
When RNLI Lifeboats initiate a campaign on diver safety you know they must have good reason. Their stand at the Birmingham Dive Show last October was dominated by graphics and information to do with diver fitness – specifically heart health in the over 50’s.
Most divers consider themselves fit to dive if they have successfully passed their diving medical. CFT divers undergo a medical examination on first joining as a diving member; on reaching the age of 35; three yearly from the age of 35; and annually from the age of 55. The final guideline on the medical form also suggests a diving medical if the diver’s health status has changed since their last medical. However, there is a world of difference between being medically fit for diving and being physically fit and in good health. The purpose of the diving medical is to ensure that a person does not dive using scuba equipment if they have an underlying medical condition that would expose them to risk. More general physical fitness is a personal responsibility that we all have to ourselves.
The Dive Safety campaign came about through research which showed that over half of all diving deaths in the UK in the 2013 incident year were in divers aged 50 and over. British sub Aqua club (BSAC) figures showed that 8 of the 14 diving deaths (57%) that occurred in the UK during this time period were male divers in this age category. In addition, over the past two years, all nine diving fatalities attributed to medical causes were of divers in this same age range. As a result, the RNLI decided to run a campaign to encourage divers aged over 50 to make sure they are fit enough to cope with the rigours of diving.
Nick Fecher, diving safety lead at the RNLI, said: ‘Divers in this age range are likely to be experienced, safety-conscious divers who are aware of the risks involved in diving. However, the greatest risk they face is their health being able to cope with the demands of diving. I would encourage all divers, especially those aged over 50, to carry out a realistic and honest self-assessment of their health. Diving can be a demanding on the body and if you have a medical emergency when you’re mid-dive, the consequences could be fatal. Don't be afraid to say no to a dive if you have any concerns about your health, even if you're just about to enter the water’.
As a diver in this age group, this struck a chord with me and got me thinking not just about my own health, but that of my diving colleagues. I think it is fair to say that many divers over 50 approach the diving medical with a sense of foreboding, hoping that nothing will show up that would prevent them from diving. It's almost a case of keep your mouth shut and hope for the best, breathing a sigh of relief when you see the doctor sign on the dotted line. My personal approach has always been a little different, being a health professional myself as a pharmacist. In any healthcare role, you are always grateful for your own good health in helping others to overcome their health difficulties. As I approached the dreaded 50, I was undergoing regular medicals as a crewmember and helm on Kinsale lifeboat. On the smaller inshore lifeboats, the retirement age is 50, and on my last medical the doctor did flag raised blood pressure and suggested that I make some lifestyle changes to look after my health. I subsequently visited my own GP and got a thorough medical checkup which showed elevated cholesterol, a poor lipid profile and confirmed the raised blood pressure, putting me in a pre-hypertensive category and at risk of cardiovascular disease. At the time, I was also overweight, with a BMI of just under 30. I realised that it was time for a serious change in lifestyle.
My personal journey into better health over the past two years is one that I have really enjoyed and see it pay dividends on many levels every day. I shed the excess kilos and got fit. That improved fitness is a real benefit in diving as you are more nimble on the dive boat and in the water, as well as being stronger in lugging the gear. I found the guidance of a personal trainer invaluable and was most surprised at what I did not know about the importance of nutrition in our health. This has encouraged me to take this further and I am currently studying for a Nutrition Diploma. I would really encourage all of my fellow 50-something’s to take a hard look at your health and bite that bullet of doing something to improve it – you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you will enjoy getting fitter and healthier.