Can You Exercise After Scuba Diving?

The ocean is a beautiful sight. Expansive waters glistening in the sun, reminding us of the fun we can have in or out of the water. One of the more popular activities associated with getting in the water is scuba diving. Tons of people love to get into a scuba suit with their breathing tank, then head beneath the surface and begin exploring everything underwater. But a lot of people wonder if it’s okay to exercise after scuba diving.

Can you exercise after scuba diving? The common school of thought by doctors and scuba experts is to wait twenty-four hours to exercise after scuba diving. The same also applies before scuba diving as well. (Source)

Now, most recommendations are referring to hard exercise. If you’re walking or have to lift reasonably lightweight after diving, there should be no issues. It’s the higher strain exercising that can pose a problem. Heavy strength-training can be a problem before or after, and so can exercises that are tough on the joints like running or other forms of high-impact cardio.

Although the recommendation is to wait twenty-four hours before or after, it has been found that a good workout around the twenty-four-hour mark before diving can actually be beneficial to the diver. Besides, diving is a great form of exercise and relaxation all by itself (our site article.)

Since you can do multiple dives per day following the guidelines we discuss in that post, resting afterwards becomes even more important. Fatigue plays a role in lack of focus, and can lead to harmful or even fatal mistakes. Stay rested, hydrated and eat well on diving days.

Decompression Illness (DCI)

This is the risk factor. Decompression illness is what divers need to look out for and prevent by during and after a dive. It most commonly occurs with too rapid ascent. But other factors including hard exertion during or after the dive can contribute (DAN). What occurs is microscopic bubbles form in the tissue and bloodstream, which can then make their way into other parts of the body such as the joints, brain, lungs, and other body parts. DCI can cause immense complications when it’s at its worst, so prevention is one of the more important aspects of scuba diving safety.

Along with scuba divers, other activities can cause DCI as well. Aviators, astronauts, and people who work in high air pressure situations can also contract DCI. The illness occurs when the pressure change is too great, too quick. For instance, in scuba diving, it can occur when a diver exceeds safe dive time or depth limits, dives beyond dive table limits or ascends too quickly. These pressure changes will result in the nitrogen from the breathing tank to separate from the rest of the breathing gas, which then enters the lungs, tissue, and bloodstream.

Decompression illness can be broken into two categories that help to better understand the symptoms that a person may experience if they contract it.

Decompression Sickness (DCS)

Decompression sickness is also commonly known as “caisson disease” or “the bends.” Microbubbles entering into the joints will create a classic case of the bends. They’re characterized as joint pain that occurs when DCS is occurring. But the problem can become worse than joint pain. When high levels of nitrogen create a higher amount of bubbles, they can have complex reactions caused by entering the brain or the spinal cord. Numbness can occur as a result, along with paralysis and higher cerebral function disorders. 

Even larger numbers of microbubbles caused by the nitrogen pose an even greater problem. They can enter the venous bloodstream, which then causes congestive issues in the lungs and can proceed to cause circulatory shock. 

Some of the symptoms associated with DCS are:

  • Unexpected fatigue
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Joint and/or muscle pain in the arms, legs or torso
  • Dizziness, ringing in the ears, vertigo
  • Paralysis, numbness or tingling
  • Breath shortness
  • Weakness
  • Difficult urination
  • A change in personality, bizarre behavior or confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Tremors
  • Staggering
  • Coughing up blood
  • Frothy saliva
  • Collapse/unconsciousness

These are all signs that DCS may be playing a role in a decompression illness situation. Look for any combination of these when a sudden pressure change takes place. Don’t be in denial if these signs start to show up after surfacing from your dive. If the symptoms begin accumulating in multiples, it’s time to consult a diving medical specialist or dial 911 immediately. 

Advice to implement in decompression emergencies

Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE)

Arterial gas embolism or “AGE” is the more serious of the two situations associated with DCI. It occurs when a scuba diver surfaces too quickly without exhaling, which is one of the most important parts of breaching the surface at the end of a dive. It can also occur if a diver loses consciousness before they hit the surface, or if they lose consciousness within roughly ten minutes of surfacing. This situation is serious, and the unconscious diver needs to be rushed to the emergency room to be treated.

What happens when a person begins experiencing AGE is that the lung tissue may become ruptured if the diver does not exhale the gas in their lungs. The proper term for this phenomenon is pulmonary barotrauma and essentially lets air bubbles form, then enter the bloodstream. Although this seems similar to DCS, the result is more extreme and has a much more dangerous result.

The signs to look for if a diver may be experiencing AGE are:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Decreased sensation
  • Pain in the chest
  • Becoming disoriented
  • Bloody froth from the mouth and/or nose
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Convulsing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Cessation of breathing
  • Death

Yes, you can die from arterial gas embolism. That is why it’s imperative to get a diver to the ER if they begin experiencing AGE. It can quickly become a race against time to save the life of the diver, so be sure to know the signs and seek immediate medical attention if they begin exhibiting the symptoms.

Divers Alert Network (DAN)

The Divers Alert Network (DAN) is an important resource for all divers. Any issues that can occur from the diving itself or any problems that occur afterward may be helped through DAN., Especially if a diver decides to engage in any sort of exercise after the dive. If complications occur, first contact EMS if the situation is serious, and proceed to contact DAN for help. If the situation is mild and you think there may be complications arising, contacting DAN to answer any questions is acceptable.

The Divers Alert Network has a twenty-four-hour hotline available to all divers in their time of need. The number, just in case, is (919) 684-9111. The line connects callers to an expert in diving medicine, so you will be in contact with not only a medical professional but one that specializes in helping divers in a potentially serious situation. They also handle emergencies, so their knowledge base is expansive and can help divers that may be in a life-threatening situation.

If the situation is life-threatening, get the diver to the nearest medical facility with emergency personnel while in the process of contacting DAN. The medical professional you speak with through DAN will typically provide a recommendation for the diver. If the situation is not life-threatening, they will often times place a caller on hold or call them back once they assist in making the proper arrangements for the diver in need.

To Conclude…

Scuba diving can be an invigorating activity, whether you’re diving with regularity or trying it for the first time. But it does include its risks just like anything else. It’s helpful to be in good physical shape if you’re planning on diving, the strength and endurance will assist in a more enjoyable experience. But for the fitness buffs out there, hold off on exercising for twenty-four-hours before and after your dive. The risks involved are not worth it and can cause potential issues. So, always play it safe when you head out to partake in that next scuba adventure.  

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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Discusses the common school of thought on vigorous exercise prior to or following scuba diving.