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October 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Scuba Diving for Health

from the October, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We always knew diving was good for the spirit and soul. Now medical researchers believe scuba is good for the health as well, and are testing that thesis out on groups ranging from disabled veterans to breast cancer survivors.

A pilot study of 10 disabled veterans who have suffered spinal cord injuries for 15 years found that diving may help improve muscle movement, touch sensitivity and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in people with spinal cord injuries. After the veterans completed four days of dive training in the Caymans (eight out of the 10 passed the course), researchers found an average 15 percent drop in muscle spasticity, an average 10 percent increase in light touch sensitivity, and an average 5 percent jump in sensitivity to pinpricks. And on the mental health side, PTSD symptoms decreased an average 80 percent - - and not all of that could be attributed to the Caribbean dive sites. By contrast, a control group of healthy dive buddies experienced no improvement of any kind.

"What we saw in the water strongly suggests there is some scuba-facilitated restoration of neurological and psychological function in paraplegics," said study co-author Adam Kaplin, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. He believes water may provide buoyant resistance training not found on land, and when in the water, breathing isn't hindered by sitting in a chair. Tissues may benefit from being extra oxygenated from pressurized air, possibly causing improvements in muscle tone and sensitivity.

Also, PADI announced its support of a new study commissioned by Duke University Medical Center to understand the health benefits of diving among breast cancer survivors. Dubbed "Project Pink Tank," the initial research will begin this month with a survey via PADI eNewsletters, Undersea Journal subscribers, and PADI social networks. Survey results will be analyzed by Duke researchers to assess activity levels and health of divers who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The results are expected to be published by Duke in May 2012. To access the survey, which will remain live through January 31, 2012, go to http://pinktank.org

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