Floating may not sound like much of a fitness activity. But scuba diving cranks up the calorie burn, requires cardiovascular strength, upper body brawn, demands the power of a good leg-kick, challenges your core muscles, and envelopes you in deep relaxation all at once.

Yours truly at 35 feet with a hawksbill sea turtle, Bonaire, Dutch Antilles May  ’09

Yes, fitness takes many forms.  And one of my favorites is scuba, as you can see in this short 9 second clip my husband – and dive buddy – took just hours ago.

All else aside – including the exhilaration of swimming with sea turtles – of which one admittedly never tires – here are some fitness afloat bits and insights:

1)  Calorie burn: depending on which resource you use, I’m burning off about 600 calories per hour during scuba.  This is not so much due to athletic activity as to the thermogenesis generated keeping core temperature stabilized.

Even at 80 degrees – which is the temperature of the water here in mid May according to our dive computers – that means the body needs to ramp up metabolic activity to keep things as close to 98.6 as possible.

Additional calorie expenditure happens kicking through currents, in and out from shore, and schlepping dive gear around.  The tanks can weight from 30 to 50 lbs.  Once underwater, they feel like nothing, but somebody has to get them there.  And as our diving here is walk-in style, guess what that means?

And EPOC generated by thermogenesis and the other activities here help offset airport food blunders and other holiday travel indulgences.

2)  Cardiovascular strength: once out to the reef and bobbing beneath the waves, the aerobic challenge can be minimal – or all out high demand.  When a current kicks up or when you are kicking like mad to keep up with the eagle ray or dolphin pod (impossible, but we try!), you better be fit of heart baby or you are going to last only a few kicks.  Interval training keeps one prepared for this.

At the same time, each shore dive has an aerobic component.  Initially the “paddle to the sea”, out to where the reef drops, requires a straight kick on or right below surface

3)  Upper body strength: Scuba tanks themselves weigh up to 30 -50 lbs.  Add to that the rest of your gear and schlepping all of it into and out of the of the dive truck, and you have one heck of a workout you can sink your teeth into.  Last year’s dive triip inspired motivation to build up some upper body strength (see Supersets for Super Shape) and it’s paid off big time in this spring’s adventure.

4)  Leg and kick strength: kinetically related to #2, cardiovascular strength, the athletic demands  of kicking out to the reef drop and the kicking intervals that are integral to the process build hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and provide a great butt workout.

5)  Core muscle development: Try loading up your back with over 50 pounds of gear and teetering through the sand and beach coral to the waterline.  The demands on the core muscles to provide balance, stability, and uprightness against gravity are huge.  That means abdominals (all of ’em!), spinal erectors, lats…you name it, it’s recruited.

6)  Deep relaxation: all of the above may make this sound like it is all hard work and no play.  But actually the real prize with tropical scuba – and what is remembered most -is simply bobbing around in gentle warm water surges with lots of beautiful and funny finned critters and their companions. And breathing. Slowly and gently.  It’s all slow motion.  It quiets the mind and transports.  That’s the secret of scuba.

The perfect antidote to the stress of travel.  Case in point:  here’s a snapshot from 24 hours earlier at the Curacao airport.

“Where’s my private jet?”


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© Lani Muelrath All Rights Reserved

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