Anyone counting calories knows that you must factor in both how many you consume through food and drink as well as how many you burn through daily activities and exercise. Although swimming burns quite a few calories, what about scuba diving?

Calorie counting and scuba diving

Being fit and healthy should be a top priority when it comes to scuba diving. Physical health not only enhances your experience and performance, but it also affects safety. Being out of shape or overweight makes us vulnerable to a number of risks in diving, including decompression illness. Many divers watch what they eat as a matter of course, but how do we count calories burned when diving? Does diving even burn significant calories?

Lose weight by scuba diving

If the idea of losing weight by scuba diving sounds too good to be true, rejoice, because it is not. Many experienced divers lose weight during the dive season without changing their lifestyle in any other way. When I go on a dive trip, making several daily dives, I typically return as many as 5 pounds lighter after only a week. And that weight loss comes in spite of consuming ample amounts of food — onboard cuisine is usually plentiful and delicious. So yes, it is possible, at least anecdotally, to lose weight simply by scuba diving.

Burn, baby, burn

It often comes as a surprise to new divers just how energy-consuming diving is, because, as they say, it’s not like they’re out of breath. Quite the contrary, dive instructors emphasize the importance of never being out of breath while diving. If you’re breathing hard, you’re over-exerted, and that’s not good. Diving is the lazy man’s sport. So why would it burn calories? The secret lies in the body’s process of thermoregulation. The body seeks to maintain a core temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit; the majority of the calories we burn daily are actually for this purpose. When we are exposed to temperatures significantly lower than this, we put greater demands on the body’s thermoregulation, and the body burns more calories. And because water is 800 times denser than air, it can absorb enormous amounts of heat — even a small variation in water temperature, one that wouldn’t make much difference on dry land, can vastly increase our caloric needs.

Eat to dive, dive to eat

So just how many calories does scuba diving burn? Well, it varies quite significantly based on how strenuous the dive is and the temperature of the water, as well as a number of other factors. PADI has done quite a bit of research on this, and estimates that an average shore-dive in temperate water burns as much as 600 calories per hour — the same as jogging. A leisurely boat dive in warm, tropical waters burns about 300 calories an hour, equivalent to hiking or a brisk walk. A dive day in the tropics, with three dives a day, burns about 900 extra calories, or about 40 percent extra for an average male.

Adding calorie burn to your dive log

If you’re counting calories you may want to factor them into your dives. You can use PADI’s numbers as a rule of thumb for this, and a number of calorie-tracking tools, such as FitDay, also feature scuba diving as one the activities you can enter into your daily expenditure. None of the tools that I’ve seen factor in water temperature, only dive time, so they’re rough estimates. If you’re not actively counting calories, just know that on dive days, it’s okay to have an afternoon brownie. Or two.

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