With warm, calm seas for much of the year, scuba diving is a popular pastime in the UAE. As well as being pleasurable, it can also be beneficial for your health. Here are five reasons why scuba diving is good for you.
You might be surprised to find out that an average shore dive can burn up to 600 calories in an hour, or about the same amount as going for a run, while a boat dive in warm water will burn about 300 calories, or the same as a walk, according to scuba diving training organisation Padi. On most trips, your dive will last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes and you’ll usually do two dives.
Scuba diving is also low impact, so it is ideal for those with bad knees and hips, and if your bad joints mean you struggle with the weight of your air tank, then there is usually a crew who can help you get in and out of the water.
Another physical advantage of scuba diving is increased strength. With good buoyancy control, you’ll be weightless underwater, but above water, you’ll feel the weight of your gear, the heaviest of which are your tank, which usually weighs around 15kg, and extra weights, which vary depending on your wetsuit, the salinity of the water, your body weight and type of tank.
Once you’ve learnt to relax in the water and are comfortable and confident with what you’re doing, scuba diving can be great for stress relief. It offers mindfulness, or what many people refer to as "being in the moment". When you’re scuba diving, all you’re thinking about is diving – your breathing, your buoyancy and what you’re seeing – it’s meditative. For others the best part is the escape – away from mobile phones, emails, traffic jams – and the peace and quiet.
After a diving trip, I always feel relaxed and peaceful, but people often have different feelings after a dive, according to ProDive Middle East owner Ken Atkinson. "Some get so relaxed they quickly fall asleep in the car on the way home, while others are so excited they can’t stop talking about what they saw or did — not good for those who want to sleep, but very good for the driver," he says.
Get closer to nature
Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of nature, or ecotherapy, particularly as we become more connected to technology. A 2014 Swedish study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that nature played an important role in stress relief and had a "harmonising effect".
People are often surprised by the variety and concentration of underwater creatures. "There is plenty of aquatic life off the East Coast of the UAE," Atkinson says. "We have two Marine Protected Areas, which are thriving with coral and fish of various species. Everything from whale sharks, moray eels, colourful parrot fish, butterfly fish and so much more.
"Turtles are almost a regular sight and some dive sites have reef sharks, which sometimes don’t hang around for long when they know divers are around."
Atkinson says there is also a number of shipwrecks that are home to soft coral and large schools of fish, turtles and stingrays.
Catch some rays
With year-round sunshine, it’s hard to believe that many residents in the UAE are deficient in vitamin D. The best way to get your fix is through regular sun exposure and diving gives you this. Though the rays under the water may not be of the UV kind, time on the boat travelling to and from the dive site is a great opportunity to catch some sun rays. Just make sure you are smart about it – wear a hat, pack sunscreen and limit your exposure time (without protection) to 10 to 15 minutes or you could burn, putting yourself at risk of skin cancer.
Broaden your social circle
The health benefits of social interactions and relationships are becoming better understood, and those who have healthy social relationships tend to have better mental and physical health, especially as we age.
"The social side of diving is huge," Atkinson says. "I started diving as a 16-year-old on my own and made some amazing friends at the time. Meeting people, going places and sharing memories – what else is there? Having dived for 30 years, I have a number of friends I’ve met through the sport and we still chat today.
"At the end of the day, most people are very happy to sit down, relax and chat about the dive they did or the dives they’re about to do."