Dive In

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Susan Oliver, owner of Meridian Blue Scuba, checks the pressure in an 80 cubic foot scuba tank Wednesday at her shop on Kentucky 81.

When health-conscious folks look for sports that strengthen body, mind and soul, yoga and tai chi may pop in their minds first.

One national study suggests scuba diving should rank pretty high.

"The health benefits of recreational diving appear to be greater than the practice of other sports in reducing stress and improving well-being," reported academic journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Diveheart is a scuba diving therapy program in Downers Grove, Illinois. The nonprofit provides physical and psychological therapy to people with disabilities, including post traumatic stress disorder and amputations.

"We've discovered the forgiving, weightless wonder of the water column provides the perfect gravity-free environment for those who might otherwise struggle on land," Diveheart's website said. "Underwater, we're all equal."

Susan Oliver believes scuba diving offers several health benefits. The Daviess County woman started diving in 1988. She started teaching the sport in 1992.

Her dad and grandfather were professional divers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so diving runs in the family.

For nearly 20 years, Oliver has owned Blue Meridian Dive Center at 6000 Kentucky 81. Photographs of her dad and grandpa hang above a display case that showcases their diving helmet and other gear.

Aside from stress relief, she said, diving provides big benefits for the respiratory system. In addition, it is estimated the sport burns about 600 calories per hour -- about the same as jogging.

"New divers use muscles they've never used before," she said.

Like bicycle riding, the legs do the lion's share of work.

Another advantage: It's a sport that can last a lifetime. Oliver has clients in their 70s and 80s.

Also, it might be the perfect sport for people who carry too much weight. "Even heavyset people glide through the water like mermaids," she said.

Besides exercise, diving can be loads of fun and provides socialization. The Blue Meridian hosts numerous events -- underwater pumpkin carving, Monopoly and treasure hunts, to name a few -- aimed at keeping divers active and entertained.

Then, the shop offers a couple of international diving trips each year. Oliver estimates the Blue Meridian has hosted nearly 70 diving trips since the shop opened.

David Faulkenberg of Tell City is a diving instructor.

The 64-year-old started diving in 1982. Since then, two major medical issues interfered with his participation.

In December 2017, he was involved in an auto accident that resulted in injuries to his shoulder and upper arm, and in October 2018, he suffered a heart attack. A doctor inserted stents to correct the problem.

After both medical challenges, Faulkenberg returned to the sport he loves.

Scuba diving sharpens mental acuity, he said, because divers must learn how to operate the sport's equipment. They also encounter lots of situational issues that require quick thinking.

Diving is a perfect sport for families, he said. Faulkenberg remembers his own son asking to learn as a teen. Now, his son is 37 and still likes to dive with his dad.

"Age differences don't seem to be a challenge (with scuba diving)," Faulkenberg said.

Oliver said she has taken some very stressed people on days-long dive trips before. They leave town tight and fretful.

"They have to dive for two days in order to wind down and relax," she said.

Slowly, their posture starts to change. Their shoulders loosen. The water melts away their worries.

"Once people get own, they just get lost in diving. It's good therapy," Oliver said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com.

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