DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

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The Aging Divers

I am a 64-year-old healthy male working full-time in construction on an almost daily basis. I have been diving since 1953 and continue to do so as frequently as my schedule permits. Work takes me to all parts of the world, where I take the opportunity to dive. I normally limit my dives to a maximum depth of 40 feet / 12 meters. My question is twofold: How long do you feel I should be able to continue diving; and are there special physicals that are recommended on an annual or semiannual basis?

The cornerstone of health maintenance and disease prevention is an annual medical examination by your physician. Physical fitness and good health are necessary to participate in scuba; a lack of physical fitness or any type of acute illness usually restricts some normal activities — including diving.

In general, the decision to stop diving varies in individuals, but there are guidelines a healthy 64-year-old male should consider. Physical fitness is a key element for diving. Generally, you should have the ability to perform activities like surface swims and entering a boat after a dive.

The most important medical consideration in a disease-free individual includes soundness of the cardiovascular system and the lungs. Before you dive, you should be free of symptoms such as coughing, congestion, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing after exertion. To some degree, cardiovascular disease affects the vessels of the heart in all older individuals. Your physician can order a procedure called a treadmill "stress" test to evaluate your cardiovascular response to exertion.

Finally, remember to include a program of regular exercise. This promotes good cardiovascular health and good health in general. Cutting back on your depth and time are reasonable decisions in continuing to dive, too. You should make your final decision on when to quit diving based on your physician's advice, your overall health and your confidence in your abilities as a scuba diver.