Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” No one who has ever felt the allure of deep water can deny the famed oceanographer’s philosophy — especially divers. Diving isn’t only a fulfilling recreational activity; it also comes with its fair share of health benefits.

PADI shares those studies show scuba diving increases exposure to bone-building vitamin D, reduces stress and lowers blood pressure, and can even increase flexibility, lead to better sleep, and boost the brain’s serotonin and dopamine levels.

The benefits from diving are immense, ranging from mental to physical, and in some cases — depending on the individual — even spiritual, improving an individual’s holistic well-being. The Professional Association of Diving Professionals says, “Diving can, for many, act as an underwater meditation. The focus on breathing, the sensation of weightlessness, and the absence of many of the modern world’s omnipresent distractions — ringing phones, blinking inboxes, beeping texts — allows individuals to reconnect to the planet.

“Aside from the psychological, there are scientifically proven physical health benefits to diving, like increased flexibility and strength, improved blood circulation, and an increase in oxygen.”

The Psychological and Physical Therapeutic Value of Diving

“Divers have long recognized the benefits of diving. And recent studies from the past 10 years prove it. For instance, Johns Hopkins did some double-blinded studies in both the psychological and physical benefits of diving, finding data to support that there is a therapeutic value to it. It's almost prescribable,” says PADI CEO and President Drew Richardson. “I’ve also personally done some work with individuals with traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and the results from diving are incredible. I’ve witnessed, anecdotally at least, impressive step gains thanks to immersion.”

Richardson adds that scuba diving helps soothe the nervous system, thanks to more mindful breathing methods.

“Think about it. You're particularly conscious of your breathing while scuba diving,” Richardson explains. “Unlike time spent above the surface in which we are often too distracted to focus on the breath, you are back to your primal functions, which can improve relaxation as well as your physical and mental function.”

In addition to therapeutic psychological and physical attributes, Richardson says there’s a Zen quality to scuba diving that ties into healing and stress relief.

“A big part of diving is self-healing from awareness and observation,” Richardson says. “Divers quickly discover the experience is all about slowing down and being present, which ties into well-being. If we can get more people being conscious of that, and diving together in groups, humanity can begin to heal collectively.”

Richardson adds that diving can improve moods and sleep patterns, further reducing stressors.

PADI’s Push for Healing and Health

“Whoever thought that diving would be a physical and psychological therapy? It turns out it is,” Richardson says, citing the Johns Hopkins work. “People feel a little glowy when they come out of a dive, and tired, and ready to take a nap and all the rest, and that's just mellowing out and taking pause. That's from an interaction with the environment, which brings us back in mind, in place, which in our busy lives we tend to forget about.”

Preliminary studies indicate that diving results in “significant improvement in muscle movement, and increased sensitivity to touch,” PADI reports. “Could the lack of gravitational pressures and holistic benefits of close contact with nature someday yield a miracle cure for those with injuries previously considered untreatable? Time — and creative thinkers willing to think outside the box and below the surface — will tell.”

Richardson says PADI has explored how forms of diving and dry diving (which involves bringing a body to pressure on land similar to what is experienced through diving) are being used for hyperbaric oxygen therapies in decompression and recompression chambers at hospitals. “That high oxygenation level is incredibly beneficial for healing wounds, burns, broken bones, and torn ligaments. Work is even being done to prove how it can improve immunity,” Richardson says. 

‘The Transformational Power of Learning to Dive’

A 2016 study from The Medical School at the University of Sheffield in England found a significant improvement in the mental health of military veterans with physical injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder who completed the PADI Deptherapy program. The study reports that decreased insomnia and lower anxiety and depression levels were some of the positive results of the treatment.

In light of this, and in line with its commitment to making diving available to all, PADI has been working closely with veterans through its Adaptive Support Diver and Adaptive Techniques Specialty courses. 

Says Kristin Valette Wirth, chief brand and membership officer for PADI Worldwide, “We are committed to increasing access to the underwater world for everyone and believe that the transformational power of learning to dive can benefit the emotional and physical well-being of all humanity.

“Promoting health and wellness through diving is a key focus area of PADI’s People and Humanity Pillar of Change, with the primary objective to remove barriers and increase access to diving for all.”

Diving Into Health

The benefits of diving appear to be as vast as the ocean itself. According to PADI, scuba diving improves flexibility and muscular strength, releases toxins from the body, strengthens lungs, boosts the immune system, and can aid in the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Valette Wirth spoke about the benefits of diving on “The Mentality Podcast.”

“I think everyone goes through that somewhat transformative experience at their own time, in their own way,” Valette Wirth says. “I know I sure did in my own way. It’s really interesting to see how it affects everybody so individually and uniquely, and there’s no doubt that scuba diving itself as an activity really promotes health and wellness generally. There’s the relaxation aspect of it, where you’re so mindful of things like your breathing, and it presents almost a meditative quality that can just be so healthy for you, while at the same time, it can also be exhilarating and you really get your serotonin and dopamine going in your brain because you’re reacting to what you’re seeing.”

Valette Wirth observed that it’s apparent that scuba diving has clear positive physical and psychological benefits. “There are so many aspects of diving that aid in that. You’re outdoors. You have exposure to sunlight. And we know in scuba diving, you never want to hold your breath, so you’re experiencing good inhales and exhales. You get all those happy hormones going and it stimulates your brain in a very healthy way. There’s the exercise aspect of it that makes you feel good in mind, body, and soul, and you’re doing something good for the planet by learning to appreciate nature in a different way and really helping to conserve the ocean and its inhabitants.”