Though drowning is officially the No. 1 cause of diver death, heart disease is often the contributing factor that leads to drowning. As with other forms of exercise, diving can actually benefit heart health, but to avoid being a statistic, there are four things you should do before your next dive trip and symptoms you should recognize.
Make sure you (1) get a checkup regularly, (2) do 30 minutes of exercise daily, (3) understand heart diseases that could affect a diver, and (4) recognize the warning signs for cardiac conditions.
You may not be trying out for a high school sports team, but it is still important to have regular, in-depth physical checkups in order to take a preventative approach to heart disease — an approach that could save your life. Check with your doctor and ask him or her whether your heart is healthy enough for diving. The heart keeps the body going — much like the engine in a car — so treat it like you only will have one because chances are you will.
We all know and have heard that exercise strengthens your heart, but there is sometimes confusion about which activities can actually create a healthier heart. Exercise doesn’t have to an aerobic one such as walking or jogging, although these are typically the exercises that we do. Actually, anything that raises your heart rate from its resting rate is valuable exercise. The trick is to find something you enjoy and make a habit of it.
Understanding heart disease and educating yourself about the red flags and symptoms that can be precursors for future problems is also important. For example, Patent Foramen Ovale. PFO is when a small hole in the heart’s upper two chambers didn’t close the way that it should have after birth. Most people with PFO don’t realize they have the condition; Divers Alert Network has been conducting research on the effects of PFO on divers. Currently, DAN states: “Does this mean that the presence of patent foramen ovale may cause decompression illness? No, it does not. The data we have are merely suggestive. The number of patients we have checked is too small to draw any firm conclusions. One issue which needs explanation is that whereas 10 to 20 percent of the normal population may have patent foramen ovale, less than 0.1 percent of divers get the bends. In order to form firm conclusions, we must examine many more patients.”
In the meantime, how can you ensure you’ve taken every step possible to make your heart healthy for diving? Here are five:
1. Buy a pedometer. This is a great way to easily keep track of how much you moved in a day, and now there are even some that can downloaded to your computer for easier recordkeeping.
2. Talk to your doctor. Learn about some natural supplements that you can take like fish oil, which can lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
3. Eat better. This one can be tough, so ask a friend to monitor and help make you more accountable. You have a dive buddy, so why not a food buddy?
4. Get a full heart screen. Get peace of mind or find out what preventative steps you need to take to avoid heart disease.
5. Check family history for heart-related diseases. Knowing where you came from is the perfect way of knowing where you’re headed.
Chadd Lin is a certified personal trainer with a B.S. in exercise science. He makes his home in Tennessee.