When people think of activities they can do for exercise, scuba diving is probably one of the last things they’ll think of. However, you’d be surprised at how good of a workout you can get with just 30-45 minutes of diving. In that time, you can burn anywhere from 300-600 calories, which is the equivalent of 30 or so minutes of moderate intensity running. What’s awesome about diving is that you’re there to sightsee the underwater world basically; the weight loss is a side benefit.
Scuba diving is a fantastic way to exercise. You can give yourself a great cardiovascular workout by moving against the water resistance carrying all of your bulky scuba gear. Furthermore, the low-gravity environment does not put any pressure on your joints, making it a viable low-impact activity for working out your entire body. Scuba diving also provides mental benefits due to the release of endorphins, plus the relaxing nature of floating weightless is quite therapeutic as well.
Do not underestimate how good of a workout scuba diving can provide. There are many more reasons why it’s worth your time. In this article, we’ll go over all of the physical benefits of scuba diving and explain why it’s a good way to exercise.
Is scuba diving physically demanding?
Yes and no. While scuba diving can technically be classified as an extreme sport, it can also be one of the most relaxed activities you can do. In fact, even physically disabled individuals can do it (albeit with a lot of assistance), so how exactly does this activity give you an effective workout?
Many factors combine to give you a great workout even if you don’t realize it. On top of that, if you were in decent shape beforehand, you can extract even more enjoyment and weight loss from this activity.
For starters, you can get a workout before you’ve even entered the water. Don’t underestimate the effort it takes to lift your scuba cylinder, diving weights and other equipment, don them, and walk into the water from shore or dive backwards from a boat. If you’re out of shape, then this sequence of actions alone will wind you.
A full set of scuba gear can weigh as much as 25 kg / 55 lbs depending on what kind of scuba tank you’re using and how much lead weight is in your weight belt. Walking around with this much extra weight will work your core and leg muscles, especially if you aren’t diving from a boat.
If you have a bad back, be very careful when carrying and wearing scuba equipment. Furthermore, you should definitely be diving from a boat to avoid aggravating your existing injuries.
We haven’t even reached the water yet and you may have already gotten a good workout. Let’s talk about what happens when you’re underwater.
Working out underwater
So you’ve made it into the water either from walking from the shore or diving from a boat. The first thing you’ll notice is that water is much denser than air, and thus you will experience water resistance with every movement. Each action you take requires more effort underwater compared to on land. How much of a workout you get depends on how much you move and the dive conditions.
The water is not always calm. Scuba divers must make constant adjustments as the currents shift, and moving against the current requires much more energy compared to diving in idyllic conditions. The more you exert yourself, the more oxygen you will consume which limits how long you can dive for before you use up all of your breathing gas.
As we mentioned above, the goal of scuba diving isn’t to get a good workout; that just happens as a side effect. The goal is to spend as much time sightseeing in a new environment. The aim of a diver is actually to try to conserve as much energy as possible so that they can have a longer bottom time.
In the Open Water Diver course, you will learn about finning and breathing techniques which should help you conserve your breathing gas and maximize your bottom time. One of the things you’ll learn is to not rely so much on your hands. If you want to maneuver around, use your legs and fins to propel yourself. The fins will make each kick more efficient by increasing propulsion.
How much of a workout you get also depends on what type of diving you plan on doing. For instance, a dive in calm conditions where you just take photos of an area without really moving around will obviously be less of a workout than one spent swimming with manta rays.
With that said, you’d be surprised at how many calories you can burn in just average conditions due to the general movements you need to do just to navigate the environment and adjust against the current.
Add in some extra effort for the semi-regular occasion when you see some exciting wildlife, and you can really begin to burn those calories.
The difference experience makes
Make no mistake about it, an experienced diver will be far more efficient in conserving their energy compared to a newbie. When you are just starting out, you will waste far more energy and have much shorter dives compared to a veteran diver with more experience and the right techniques.
For example, inexperienced divers have a bad habit of using their hands to swim plus their finning technique will likely be wrong. An experienced divers knows how to efficiently fin underwater. Each kick will come from the hips instead of from the knees. This gives a good workout to the glute, legs, core, and back muscles, yet it is also the more efficient way of finning.
With experience, divers will learn how to pace themselves against sudden changes in the current, and use their efficient finning technique to make progress against it or out of it steadily. Also, the fitter you are, the less tired you get and your gas consumption will be lower than someone who is out of shape.
How water temperature affects your body
One factor that is not often considered when examining scuba diving as a weight loss activity is the effect water has on one’s body temperature. Water is extremely good at taking heat away from your body compared to air, about 20 times more efficient in fact.
That’s the reason why even if you were to dive in warm waters, you may eventually end up shivering. No matter how warm the water gets, it will always be cooler than our core body temperature. Thus, the longer you spend in the water, the more your body temperature will trend toward the water temperature and you can feel cold despite being in a tropical environment.
When your body is cold, your metabolism increases accordingly which causes fat to be burnt at a faster rate compared to any equivalent land activity.
We do not recommend intentionally causing your body to feel cold, however it is just a natural part of diving which can increase energy usage, and the net effect is that you will burn fat faster because of how efficient water is at conducting heat away from the body.
How many calories can you burn while scuba diving?
According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the largest scuba training agency in the world, scuba diving burns 300-600 calories per hour. Specifically, it is estimated that an average shore dive can burn up to 600 calories per hour, and a warm water boat dive will burn 300 calories per hour.
The exact number of calories burned in a dive can vary wildly in this range depending on several factors, including:
- Dive conditions: A tourist diving in the tropical warm and calm waters of the Bahamas will burn fewer calories than a diver who is in cold or rough waters. Additionally, sudden changes in weather for the worse or bursts of physical exertion (to avoid danger or swim after something) can contribute to increased calories burned.
- Gear: It’s already hard to move around underwater due to water resistance, and divers who are bulky, heavy gear will experience more of it. Even though scuba divers aim to streamline their dive profile as much as possible, such as by diving sidemount, sometimes it is simply unavoidable.
- Metabolic rate: The cold water will force your body to increase its metabolic rate which causes fat to be burnt faster than usual. Even with a wetsuit on, you will experience this phenomenon so don’t forgo it because you think it’ll aid you in weight loss.
- Length of dive: The longer your dive, the longer you will be fighting against the water resistance and exercising with an increased metabolic rate and elevated heart rate. Of course you are limited by how much breathing gas you have, but if you are diving with multiple tanks, then you’ll burn plenty of calories.
For a point of reference, burning 600 calories per hour is about equivalent to doing light jogging for an hour. To burn 300 calories per hour, an equivalent activity is taking a brisk walk for two hours. Or, you can do a tangentially-related activity and swim or tread water for an hour.
Now, if scuba diving is equivalent to walking or jogging, then why not walk or jog? Scuba diving is a great way to add more cardiovascular exercise in a fun and exciting way so you can avoid the tedium of exercising on a treadmill.
Furthermore, walking and jogging especially can cause unnecessary stress on your knees and ankles. With scuba diving, you get to explore a vast underwater world filled with vibrant marine life. It’s a low-impact activity that will save your joints and keep you entertained throughout the whole dive.
With that said, it is a good idea that you have a decent baseline cardiovascular level, i.e. you are already somewhat physically active before attempting scuba diving. You should also know how to swim for the dive to go smoothly. If you’re out of shape and panting like crazy, you’ll just use up all of your breathing gas in no time and be forced to surface faster than intended.
Assuming these criteria are met, you will hopefully be having the time of your life while losing weight. Scuba diving is a great way to exercise your body without even feeling like a workout because you’ll be so preoccupied looking for fish and exploring the environment.
Calculating calories burned while diving
You can use this simple calculator to get a rough estimate of the amount of calories you’ll burn while scuba diving for your body weight.
How exactly are the calories calculated? According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), in their 2011 Compendium of Physical Activity, they rate various physical activities in units of Metabolic Equivalents of Task (METS).
Each sport has a METS number, and regular scuba diving has an average of 7 METS. Moderate intensity diving has 12 METS, and high intensity diving has 12.5 METS. Obviously you cannot maintain moderate or high intensity diving for an hour straight (plus your breathing gas would run out at a faster rate), but you may occasionally do either of those, so this muddies the calculations.
However, even under the most conservative assumption that you have a relaxing dive where you don’t exert yourself much, the numbers are quite impressive. Assuming you weigh 80 kg, using the average diving figure of 7 METS, the calculation is thus:
80 kg x 7 METS = 560 calories per hour
Of course that number may be a little higher or lower depending on the factors discussed above. However, this number is quite comparable to the calories burned in other sports and can lead to weight loss.
Can scuba diving help with weight loss?
Any activity that burns calories has the potential to result in weight loss. However, one thing to keep in mind is that scuba diving is an activity often associated with relaxing and being on holiday.
When you’re vacationing, are you really worried about the calories of the food and drink you’re having? Will you really adhere to a strict diet when you’re trying to unwind and have a good time?
Weight loss is a simple formula – reduce your caloric intake below that of what your body usually gets, and you will lose weight. Following this simple formula, even if you are burning a lot of calories but not changing your diet, a “bad” meal can easily add so many calories back that you end up with the same or perhaps greater caloric intake than before.
If you’re vacationing on an intense diving safari holiday where you dive 3-4 times a day, then you may possibly be burning so many calories you will see weight loss regardless. However, scuba diving will tire you out and you will work up an appetite like never before, so if you’re not careful it can end up as a wash for weight loss.
So even though scuba diving can be effective for weight loss, the context in which it is done is often during the holidays which means you’ll probably be enjoying some good food afterwards. Depending on your food choice, you may end up losing weight still, have no change in weight, or perhaps gain weight if the calories are too much.
Scuba diving for mental health
People who love running say that it clears their mind and makes them feel really good. This phenomenon is called the runner’s high and it’s a deeply relaxing state of euphoria some people may experience in response to intense or lengthy exercise.
When you’re scuba diving, you may experience something similar to a runner’s high. Many divers have found diving to be a relaxing activity because of the feelings of stress relief and tranquility this activity brings. Divers often refer to being underwater as being their “happy place.”
Some divers use diving as their retreat – a place they can go to to escape the hustle and bustle of their daily life. There, they can get away from their work, their phone, the internet, annoying co-workers, and just focus on controlling their buoyancy and exploring.
The mental focus of perfectly maneuvering the underwater environment gives many divers an almost meditative relaxation. Furthermore, floating freely in a weightless environment can lead to significant stress relief. Being at one with nature and experiencing this tranquil environment is so effective, it’s even used for treating veterans with PTSD.
So not only is scuba diving a good exercise, but it’s also a great activity for the soul.
Getting in shape for scuba diving
Even though scuba diving is itself a good exercise, transitioning to it is going to be difficult if you normally live a sedentary lifestyle. For the best scuba diving experience, you should maintain general health and fitness levels so your body can do what you want it to do underwater.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a muscular powerlifter or something extreme like that. The most important factor is to have strong cardiovascular endurance, which means your heart and lung fitness are important for scuba diving. General cardiovascular training like jogging, swimming, cycling, and so on are excellent places to start.
Obviously, the cardiovascular training activity that has the greatest carry-over to scuba diving is swimming. Moving smoothly underwater requires good finning technique which requires strong leg muscles and a wide range of leg movement.
Some supplemental training you can do are toning and stretching exercises from yoga or pilates. These will stretch out your leg muscles and improve your range of motion.
Another important aspect to focus on is controlled breathing. When you breathe deep, your body naturally relaxes and your heart rate will decrease. This promotes calm and relaxation, both of which are essential for a diver to have.
It doesn’t matter how fit your body is, if your mind is weak and you panic, the increased heart rate and haphazard breathing will use up all of your breathing gas in no time. Yoga and meditation are therefore very effective training you can do on land to develop your breathing techniques and promote relaxation.
Lastly, as we mentioned, carrying scuba equipment can be a burden, especially if you’re doing a shore dive. However, if you haven’t trained your muscles for weight lifting, then you can easily strain or tear a muscle. We recommend some light gym exercises, or if you don’t have access to a gym, then you can do some bodyweight training at home.
Some great bodyweight exercises include:
- Leg raises.
- Pull-ups (using a pull-up bar, or at a nearby park with a monkey bar or a thick tree branch).
These exercises will give you a full body workout. There are exercises to improve your core, back, chest, and leg muscles. If you reach a point where you can do these exercises for, say, 3 sets of 6-12 reps each, then you will be more than capable of carrying around an extra 25 kg of gear.
If you prefer training at a gym, then consult a personal trainer to see what you should focus on. Seek medical advice if you have a pre-existing injury or are concerned about your health before exercising.
Are you convinced yet that scuba diving is a good workout? Not only can it improve your physical health, but it’s also good for your mental well-being.
By incorporating a moderately active general lifestyle, you can easily transition to scuba diving while on vacation to burn off those excess calories from the food and drink you’ll be having. Don’t let your vacation be an excuse to gain 15 pounds. With scuba diving, you can get a great workout without feeling like a workout and do some underwater sightseeing while you’re at it.
If you can easily access a scuba dive site where you live, that’s all the better. You can have a weekend retreat where you can escape from the stresses of life by going for a relaxing dive. Don’t limit your exercise to simply walking or jogging – give scuba diving a try. Trust us, you won’t be bored.