14 Health Benefits of Snorkeling According to Experts

Snorkeling provides many health benefits according to science, along with the fun and recreation it provides. For those who are looking to incorporate more outdoor exercise into their lifestyle, snorkeling can be a great option that combines a full-body workout with scenic immersion in nature. 

Snorkeling provides many benefits to mental, physical, and emotional health that improve overall fitness and well-being. 

The 14 health benefits of snorkeling are:

  1. Promotes cardiovascular health
  2. Improves aerobic fitness
  3. Burns calories
  4. Motivates people to exercise
  5. Maintains joint health
  6. Improves mental health
  7. Enhances mood
  8. Increases buoyancy and diving ability
  9. Provides opportunities to socialize
  10. Provides opportunities to be in nature
  11. Helps reduce stress
  12. Provides muscular toning and strengthening
  13. Can help with thalassophobia
  14. Provides exposure to the sun

There are many health advantages to choosing snorkeling as your hobby of choice. Keep reading to learn more about the ways that you can benefit from snorkeling. 

Snorkeling Promotes Cardiovascular Health

Like other forms of swimming, snorkeling is a cardiovascular exercise, which means that it primarily works out the cardiovascular system of the body (the circulatory system and the heart). Because snorkeling requires a swimmer to paddle and kick for extended periods, their heartrate remains slightly elevated for some time. 

As time goes on, the body begins to become conditioned to higher and higher degrees of strenuous activity, and snorkeling that would leave a beginner snorkeler breathless will not wind a veteran snorkeler at all. This cardiovascular fitness also translates to other aspects of physical fitness, such as being able to climb several flights of stairs without becoming tired or being able to sprint further. 

Not only is a person with a robust cardiovascular system less susceptible to heart-related diseases such as heart attack and stroke, but a person with a strong cardiovascular system is also able to perform a higher number at physical activities across the board, from running to jumping. 

A conditioned cardiovascular system can perform harder, longer, and faster before succumbing to a lack of oxygen transport. 

The more a person snorkels, the stronger their cardiovascular system becomes. Because the swimming involved with snorkeling burns roughly the same amount of calories as a brisk walk, snorkeling is an excellent cardiovascular activity to replace a person’s regular cardio regimen of walking or hiking if cardiovascular conditioning is one of their end goals in the hobby. 

Snorkeling Improves Aerobic Fitness

Along with strengthening a person’s cardiovascular system, snorkeling also improves general aerobic fitness. While snorkeling strengthens a person’s heart and circulatory system, it also helps condition their respiratory system and the ability of their lungs to take in oxygen efficiently. 

Over time, a person who becomes adapted to snorkeling can exert more energy with less oxygen, especially if they begin to use the snorkel to free dive. Diving with a snorkel involves allowing the snorkel to fill up with water and holding your breath, then blowing the snorkel clear when you reach the surface again. 

This kind of breath-holding activity is particularly useful for strengthening the lungs and increasing lung capacity. Divers who regularly train in this kind of free diving often learn how to hold their breath for several minutes at a time just through regular training in aerobic fitness. 

Another significant benefit of snorkeling as a form of aerobic fitness is that it can be successfully incorporated into a weight-loss program (NLM Pub Med.) Since some people find it challenging to exercise as part of a weight-loss program if they don’t enjoy the exercise they’re performing, snorkeling can provide an enjoyable alternative to the average treadmill or weight machine. 

Snorkeling and swimming have similar health benefits

Snorkeling Burns Calories

Like any swimming-based exercise, snorkeling burns calories. While snorkeling doesn’t burn as many calories as scuba diving (which burns more because it includes resistance from scuba equipment), snorkeling burns roughly 250 to 300 calories an hour

This puts snorkeling in one of the lower-impact classes of cardiovascular exercise. While snorkeling usually isn’t intense enough to qualify for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or other high-intensity cardiovascular activity, snorkeling burns calories as effectively as exercise like brisk walking does.  

Snorkeling Motivates People to Exercise

If someone enjoys snorkeling, they’re far more likely to continue to snorkel than they are to continue to do a form of exercise that they dislike. There are many motivational benefits of using snorkeling as an exercise:

  • You get to do it with other people and communicate with others: People are more likely to stick with an exercise routine if they do it with other people. 
  • Conditions are different every time: This stipulation forces participants to be present at the moment to adapt to their surroundings. Your three-times-a-week at the gym might feel like Groundhog Day, but for the sake of safety in the open ocean, you must be mentally present every time you snorkel outside of a pool. This creates more visceral (and fun) experiences. 
  • You get to see beautiful things: Exercising in nature has been shown to prevent occupational burnout (Ohio Univ) and the chance of seeing new and exotic wildlife every time you jump off the boat to snorkel is a significant incentive to go out. 
  • You get to participate in a complete sensory experience: All the senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch, and even taste—are involved when you go snorkeling. This makes each snorkeling experience novel and engaging. 
  • You get to experience an environment that decreases discomfort associated with exercise: Many cardiovascular exercises such as hiking and jogging are strenuous on the joints and muscles, but since water exercises are performed in a reduced gravity environment, the pressure on these body parts is significantly reduced. 
  • It’s usually a scheduled activity: It’s easy to dodge a self-made appointment at the gym, but if you’re scheduled for a snorkeling trip or lessons, you’re much less likely to bail because you’re financially invested. If you take up snorkeling, you may get exercise more regularly than if you just joined a gym alone. 

Snorkeling has many advantages as a form of exercise, and the activity alone encourages people to be motivated to pursue it in their spare time. 

Snorkeling Maintains Joint Health

As people age, their joints are less and less able to deal with the trauma of impact sports and other rigorous physical training activities performed on asphalt or other hard surfaces. 

This adverse impact that some exercise has on joints can make it difficult for people who are growing older to maintain their physical health into retirement and beyond. In turn, they experience the added problem of worsening comorbid health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and arthritis. 

A significant advantage of snorkeling and other swimming-based exercises is that they take much of the weight and pressure off the joints, which allows the elderly to participate in cardiovascular activities in a state of comfort. This reduced pressure also decreases the chance of sports-related injury in those who are elderly or out of shape. 

Snorkeling is also good for the joint health of overweight and obese people, who may be more subject to sports-related injuries such as shin splints in cardiovascular exercises. 

Snorkeling Improves Mental Health

Both anecdotally and in scientific study, swimming exercises such as snorkeling have been shown to improve mental health (Mich St), reducing the incidence of both depression and anxiety. Regular exercise like snorkeling has been shown to have remarkable positive effects on a person’s outlook, most likely caused by the increased levels of exercise-related endorphins in the blood. 

These endorphins are a “happy-making” type of neurochemical that makes the brain feel relaxed and euphoric, similar to a mild drug high. In this way, exercise acts as a form of natural antidepressant, and exercising can act as a release valve for pent-up emotions that exacerbate feelings of anxiety. 

Here are some of the ways that snorkeling improves mental health as a form of exercise: 

All forms of regular exercise have been shown to have profound positive effects on a person’s mental well-being, and snorkeling is no exception to the rule. For people who are looking for a natural way to help regulate their mental health, snorkeling is a good potential option. 

Snorkeling Enhances Mood

Whether you’re taking snorkeling classes in a pool or you’re paddling over a Caribbean reef, snorkeling is sure to put you in a good mood. From taking in the sun to taking in the sights, nothing can lift your spirits like a snorkeling trip. 

But it’s not just the beautiful locales or the good company—the exercise associated with snorkeling has also been shown to elevate your mood and increase your ability to regulate your emotions effectively. Along with other kinds of exercise, snorkeling can increase your general cognitive performance.

Scientific studies have shown that swimmers show an improved mood in the long-term following a regular regimen of swimming in comparison to control groups that did not swim. Not only does snorkeling make you feel good while you’re doing it, but it can also improve your general outlook long after you leave the water.  

Snorkeling Increases Buoyancy and Diving Ability

A significant benefit of snorkeling is that it gradually increases a person’s confidence in the water, along with their general swimming ability. Having to practice floating on the surface of a moving ocean also helps a person realize their natural buoyancy and can increase their ability to tread water if they ever find themselves in a situation where they have to remain afloat for an extended period. 

If a snorkeler chooses to incorporate free diving into their snorkeling routine, the breath-holding abilities that are cultivated with this kind of diving can greatly increase a person’s ability to swim in a variety of different environments. 

The fact that a mask allows a person to see underwater also allows them to focus on holding their breath while free diving, which in turn allows them to remain beneath the surface of the water longer. 

Either of these swimming skills (buoyancy and diving ability) have health benefits when applied to an emergency scenario, like if a swimmer is pulled out by a riptide or is accidentally thrown from a recreational boat. In emergencies, having strong swimming skills can save your life. 

Snorkeling Provides Opportunities to Socialize

Snorkeling is usually done in a group for safety purposes, and this, in turn, provides people with an excellent opportunity to socialize as well as exercise. Not only do people who exercise with others tend to stick with an exercise regimen longer, but socialization itself also has numerous health benefits such as the following: 

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved confidence
  • Boosted immune system
  • Cognitive improvement
  • Higher lifespan
  • Reduced chance of dementia

Snorkeling is a low-intensity group activity that removes much of the competitive nature of other group exercises (such as cooperative sports) that can intimidate more shy or introverted people who would be too intimidated to socialize in a group exercise activity otherwise. 

Much the pressure is removed from socializing during snorkeling as well because everyone starts on the same level. The only incentive to improve your snorkeling fitness is the ability to spend more time comfortably doing it. Unlike gym sports, there is more emphasis on individual experiences in nature than there is on the quantitative process, which results in a more relaxed atmosphere for socializing. 

Snorkeling Provides Opportunities to Be in Nature

Snorkeling shares many benefits with other forms of exercise, but one aspect of snorkeling that makes it unique is that it provides an opportunity to be in nature. Unlike a trip to a zoo or aquarium, snorkeling allows you to get up close and personal with some of the most beautiful wildlife on the planet. 

Not only is nature a great way to take in exercise, but being in nature also has many health benefits. The study of how immersion in nature affects our psychology, called ecopsychology, is an increasingly active area of study in the field of holistic psychology. 

Along with increasing feelings of interconnectedness and reducing feelings of negativity and isolation, immersion in nature can encourage feelings of tranquility. Immersion in nature has also been shown to have positive effects on environmentally triggered psychological disorders such as ADHD and aggression.  

Snorkeling Helps Reduce Stress

Cumulative stress from stark environments, interpersonal conflicts, and competition at work and school can have serious adverse health consequences such as:

  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Chronic fatigue


Not only can exercise like snorkeling actively reduce stress by increasing a person’s ability to regulate their emotions, and by acting as a release for pent-up frustration or emotional tension, snorkeling also provides a chance to have fun in a relaxed environment. 

Unlike diving, which can be a more tense experience because of the equipment and the inherent risks involved, snorkeling only requires a minimum of equipment and can be done in very shallow and 
calm water, making it a perfect stress-free option for learning how to swim in the open ocean or a 
reef environment. 

Snorkeling Provides Muscular Toning and Strengthening

Along with providing cardiovascular and aerobic health benefits, snorkeling (like other swimming-based exercises) is a full-body activity that works out many of the major muscle groups, including some muscles that are not commonly exercised in land-based exercises, such as the core muscles of the torso and skeletal system. 

Because of the rigorous movements of your arms and legs that are performed while snorkeling along with the core muscles used to maintain balance in the water, snorkeling is an excellent muscular workout for the arms, shoulders, obliques, abdominal muscles, hips, thighs, and calves. The legs get an especially good workout from snorkeling since they are the main form of propulsion while snorkeling. 

Snorkeling is one form of exercise that can boast that it exercises every major muscle group in the body. While snorkeling won’t allow you to stack on muscle and gain strength as dramatically or as quickly as you could using free weights on land, snorkeling is a fantastic way to generate lean muscle mass through exercise without joint stress or overheating. 

Snorkeling Can Help with Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia is the fear of the depths, and many people experience a related fear of the ocean as a result of thalassophobia. One way that people have been able to overcome phobias is exposure therapy or a controlled experience where the phobic person is allowed to experience a low-grade version of that stimuli to desensitize them to the stimuli slowly. 

For people who are afraid of the ocean (VeryWellMind), the ability to see beneath the waves with snorkeling gear can remove much of the fear of the unknown that these people associate with ocean waters, and knowing that they can safely snorkel in a controlled environment with professional instructors can remove much of the fear related to offshore exploration. 

Scuba diving is not a safe activity for those with thalassophobia because the intense fear associated with thalassophobia leads to panicky behavior that reduces oxygen and increases the chance of an operator error that can be dangerous in scuba diving conditions. In contrast, snorkeling is a much safer method of confronting thalassophobia since it occurs at the surface of the ocean (a place of relative safety) but still allows the snorkeler to observe the waters underneath. 

Snorkeling Provides Exposure to the Sun

As opposed to indoor exercises such as gym activities, snorkeling provides the person doing it with plenty of direct sunlight. Exposure to sunlight is essential for the production of both serotonin (a mood-altering chemical in the brain) as well as the production of vitamin D. This vitamin leads to a better immune response as well as the production of bone and blood cells. 

Provided that proper precautions are taken while snorkeling to avoid excess sun exposure (such as the application of sunscreen and the use of UV-protective clothing and eye gear), soaking up some rays while snorkeling will not only increase your body’s physical health, this same sun exposure also enhances a person’s outlook—hence the expression “a sunny disposition.” 

Exposure to sunlight has also been shown to stave off some forms of depression, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). There are numerous benefits to moderate sun exposure (NIH NLM.)

Who Shouldn’t Snorkel for Health Reasons? 

While snorkeling can have many positive health benefits for a variety of different people, there are certain groups of people who have health issues that place them at a higher risk of complications or injury while snorkeling. Here are some of the people who should avoid snorkeling as a form of exercise to avoid a medical incident: 

  • People with chronic medical conditions that affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, or nervous system:This includes disorders such as narcolepsy, epilepsy, history of heart attack, history of stroke, COPD, or asthma.  
  • People who smoke cigarettes: Smokers aren’t banned from snorkeling, of course, but smokers should be aware that cigarette smoking can make snorkeling much more complicated and uncomfortable from a respiratory standpoint caused by decreased lung capacity. 
  • People who are very anxious: Anxious snorkelers are at risk of hyperventilating and blacking out, which increases their risk of drowning. Those snorkelers who are nervous should snorkel with a certified instructor close at hand. 
  • People who are not (at least somewhat) physically fit: People who are extremely out of shape or morbidly obese may over-exert themselves while snorkeling and may be at a higher risk of drowning, so people who snorkel must have a basic level of cardiovascular fitness to start with. Otherwise, a less stressful activity such as regular water aerobics should be pursued instead. 

Snorkeling is a reasonably laid-back activity (with an activity level comparable to a brisk walk or a slow jog), so all but the most sedentary people should be able to do it comfortably. Even pregnant women can comfortably snorkel without over-exerting themselves.

This means, while mildly out of shape people might huff and puff while snorkeling a bit more than fit people, they should still be able to snorkel in most cases. 

The main concern with snorkeling and health is a strain on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, so for people who have underlying health conditions that affect either of those systems, snorkeling may be too much to handle. 

What Are the Potential Health Risks Associated with Snorkeling? 

Snorkeling is a very safe hobby overall, and there are many health benefits associated with it. Still, there are a few potential health risks associated with it as a form of exercise too. While many of these risks are quite rare, they do exist in the snorkeling hobby. Here are some of the potential health risks involved in snorkeling: 

  • Bad weather: On the open ocean, storms can crop up quickly. This can lead to increased danger while snorkeling as well as increased danger in boating back to shore. We discussed this here.
  • Encounters with dangerous wildlife: Most of the encounters with wildlife that snorkelers have are delightful, but snorkelers do occasionally encounter aggressive wildlife such as barracuda, sharks, moral eels, and poisonous jellyfish. 
  • Exposure: Exposure to the sun and wind can lead to dehydration and heatstroke while snorkeling, especially for those who make no attempts to hydrate. In colder waters, hypothermia for snorkelers without proper protective gear such as a dry suit is the 
    bigger danger. 

Overall, the risks associated with snorkeling are few and far between, especially if snorkeling expeditions are undertaken as part of a group and with a certified instructor. When snorkeling in the open ocean, it’s also essential to err on the side of caution when it comes to avoiding snorkeling trips in bad weather or pending storms. Check a weather forecast to ensure smooth sailing before you head out.

There are a few sensationalized cases of divers being left behind by their companions that have made people leery of going on these kinds of expeditions, but it’s important to remember these cases are so rare that chances are better of being struck by lightning on the beach than being left behind in the ocean by a snorkeling boat. 

The Health Benefits of Snorkeling Outweigh the Risks

The health benefits of snorkeling lead to it being one of the most well-balanced forms of exercise you can undertake—it involves strengthening your physical body, enhancing your mental outlook, and positively affecting your emotional well-being. Between immersion in nature and the healing effects of buoyant hydrotherapy, it’s harder to find a more perfect form of exercise than snorkeling. 


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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