If you think scuba diving is just for guys like Jacques Cousteau and Scuba Steve, think again. With certified celeb divers such as Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Sandra Bullock, Katie Holmes, and Nina Dobrev leading the way, women now make up about 30 percent of all divers, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
“Diving is becoming more trendy and a popular way to stay active and fit on vacation among women,” says Lauren Schuil, Marketing and Digital Administrator at Aqua Lung, which recently launched Details, a complete dive line designed by women for women.
But unlike most trends, it’s nearly impossible to tire of diving. And once you’re certified, you’re certified for life. So ditch your sneaks and the hotel gym, and dive in to reap these five body-boosting benefits of scuba:
Quick science lesson: Water is heavier than air. What that means for your muscles: Continuous resistance without the joint-jolting impact of hitting the pavement—or even the beach. “Because diving is a low-impact sport, many divers do not and should not feel the physical exertion under water, but they are in fact using major muscle groups to propel themselves through resistance created by the water,” says Kelly Rockwood, PADI Americas course diver and fitness expert. What’s more, a full air tank weighs about 40 pounds, and the rest of your gear can easily add another 20+ pounds to your frame, making gearing up—and getting to the back of the boat—a strength workout in itself.
Crazy Calorie Burns
Just 30 minutes of mermaiding around can burn about 400 calories, thanks to the water’s constant resistance—and your constant swimming. Most diving excursions last about 30 to 45 minutes, so depending on your weight, fitness level, the current, and the intensity of your dive, zapping 500-plus calories during a single dive is totally possible, says Brad Johnson, Ph.D., fitness and wellness expert and author of Scared Skinny No More. If you are doing multiple dives in a day (depending on your depth and time of each dive, you could do four or more in one outing), remember to eat a small snack and hydrate between dives, he advises.
The first rule of Scuba Club: Never hold your breath. Why? Breathing deeply and slowly during a dive reduces the risk of a lung-expansion injury. But this breathing technique also has lung-boosting benefits. It increases lung capacity, strengthens the respiratory system, and can cut your risk of developing diseases of the lungs, according to research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The study focused on deep breathing in general, but during scuba you have to practice deep belly breathing—the same as in the study—for an hour at a time for each dive, which is more than people generally do during deep-breathing exercises. Plus, by allowing the body to take in more oxygen and release more carbon dioxide, deep breathing can lower blood pressure and quell depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders, according to Harvard Medical School.
Combine endorphins, deep breathing, and pretty fish, and it’s understandable that a good scuba session could result in a less stressed-out you. While that’s not hard to put together, one study from the Human Performance Laboratory at Karlstad University Sven-Åke Bood shows that scuba’s stress-fighting benefits may also have to do with the peace and quiet of being immersed in the ocean. Scuba diving reduces sensory input (think: sounds are quieter, motions are slower, etc.) to a minimum, which can provide major stress relief, according to the study’s researchers. They found that regular flotation tank sessions relieve chronic stress-related ailments in more than half of patients.
Scuba diving is physically demanding and seriously takes you out of your comfort zone. “The fact is that scuba requires you to swim, handle conditions on the surface, monitor your equipment, and navigate underwater life,” says Alfred Bove, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Temple University School of Medicine and a certified diver. “The better you feel you can handle these stressors under the water, the more prepared you feel to face challenges above the surface.” And that feeling of preparation equals confidence and fulfillment.