By Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW
Getting older creates little cause for cheer when it comes to the body. Reduced muscle mass and aerobic efficiency result in less power and endurance. Soft tissues stiffen and contract, reducing range of motion. Balance systems begin to degrade, increasing the risk of falls, especially when you’re lumbering about in dive gear. Reaction time slows.
But wait, there’s more. You might now have a chronic condition or two to manage. Perhaps you’re on medications with side effects that affect how or when you can dive. Old injuries can make themselves known in unwelcome new ways over time and you’ll find that you’re now more prone to new injuries, sometimes for no apparent reason. It takes longer to heal than it used to and sometimes, you don’t even get full recovery anymore.
Minimizing the Damage
Aging still beats the alternative, and you can mitigate a lot of it through consistent self-care. Prioritize your health and you’ll maximize the number of years that you can continue to enjoy safe diving.
Good nutrition is critical. Fueling your body with real, whole food slows the aging process, reduces susceptibility to disease, and provides the body with quality building materials for healing itself. Good nutrition includes adequate hydration with plain old water, the only beverage your body absolutely requires.
Be physically active, preferably for 30-60 minutes almost every day. You want to rebuild muscle, preserve aerobic capacity, maximize range of motion and flexibility, and keep your balance systems well-tuned. However you accomplish it, you’ll feel much better—and younger—for doing it. To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb, the best time to start taking care of yourself was 20 (or more) years ago. The next best time is now.
If you’re old enough for this article to apply to you, then you’re old enough to benefit from an annual checkup whether you think you need one or not. The ideal physician/patient relationship is one in which you work together to prevent or minimize health problems rather than merely managing symptoms once they’re in place. You might have to shop around for a physician who will partner with you in this manner.
The hardest part may be admitting that your body is changing and that your practices must evolve accordingly. Conventional wisdom is to dive within your limits and that includes noticing as those limits change. They are now more of a moving target—especially when you come back to diving after any extended break, like the year between annual dive trips.
Over time, you’ll be well served to consider more conservative dive profiles, longer safety stops, longer surface intervals, and a less intense schedule of diving. You might need more exposure protection than in days past, due to a slower metabolism. As your power and stamina gradually decline, you’ll need to pay more attention to currents than you used to.
It’s always good to minimize physical exertion during surface intervals, though younger divers often disregard this simple strategy for reducing the risk of DCS. You’re older and wiser now, so go ahead and take it easy between dives.
There might come a time when—ugh—it’s better if you get some help with schlepping your gear. If so, remember that dive pros love generous tips and will be more than happy to give you a hand. You’ll have a happier diving experience and they’ll get more cash—everybody wins. If you’re diving privately with friends, maybe you can chip in on gas for the trip, pay for some air fills, or offset the help in some other way that ends up feeling good for everyone.
Consider going a little slower when donning and doffing gear, because it’s a lot easier now to wrench a shoulder or a knee when you’re rushing or distracted. One wrong move could end your diving for the day or the remainder of your trip, or even leave you with a long-term injury to deal with for weeks or months after.
Going With the Flow
Your best bet is to make the most of what you have rather than despairing over what has changed. This might mean exploring some less intense activities that weren’t exciting enough to interest you in your hard-charging youth, but which might look more attractive these days. This could actually open the door to some new experiences at a time in your life when you weren’t expecting them. Not so bad, really.
While we don’t get a vote on whether we age, we have a lot of power over howwe age. Healthy personal habits, smart strategies, and a good attitude are the best hedges available. Now, go play.
Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW has been a certified diver since 2000. She is a psychotherapist and community educator who has written extensively on topics of interest to anyone seeking to maximize their health and overall enjoyment of life, though her primary specialty is the treatment of overeating. She recently published “Why We Overeat and How to Stop,” (available at Amazon.com), a new approach to overeating which empowers readers to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all. She resides in southwestern Pennsylvania where she spends as much time as possible outdoors, preferably on, in, or near water. She can be reached through www.elizabethbabcock.com. and on Facebook.