Scuba diving is becoming an increasingly deadly pastime for older people, as figures show the number of underwater heart attacks is on the rise.
Researchers say that many divers do not realise they are no longer fit enough for the hobby because they took up the sport when they were younger and were in better shape.
Figures show that between 1989 to 2015, the proportion of diving fatalities worldwide involving 50–59 year-olds increased steadily from 15 per cent to 35 per cent. Deaths in the over-60s soared from 5 per cent to 20 per cent.
Heart attacks and strokes are now the second leading cause of death for scuba divers after drowning.
“Cardiac issues are now a leading factor in diving fatalities,” said study author Dr Peter Buzzacott, of the University of Western Australia, in Crawley, Australia.
“Divers who learned to dive years ago and who are now old and overweight, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are at increased risk of dying.”
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Divers go through a rigorous training process when the initially learn where they are screened for fitness, but after that their certification lasts for life, even if they should no longer be in the water, researchers have warned.
Researchers looked at a huge databank in the US, covering 736 million people, of whom 113,892 said their main hobby was scuba diving.
Around one third of the divers were aged 50 or older, and many had risk factors that made them more susceptible to suffering an underwater heart attack.
Around 54 per cent had smoked cigarettes at some point in their lives, compared with 46 per cent of non divers. Nearly half of divers were overweight (48 per cent) compared with 43 per cent of non divers and one third had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“It's not commonly new divers who have health problems, because they have been recently screened,” added Prof Buzacott. “It is older divers who have not looked after their health.”
Dr Buzzacott advised all divers to have routine fitness assessments with their doctor, and take action to shed the pounds and lower blood pressure and cholesterol of else face a heart attack underwater.
“Never before in history have so many people been exposing themselves to these extraordinary environmental stresses and, for the first time ever, we now have a large number of people who have spent their entire lives regularly scuba diving,” he added.
“None of us are as young as we once were and it is important that we stay in shape for diving. The father of scuba, Jacques Cousteau, was diving at 90 and the current world’s oldest diver is 94.
“He looks like he's in great shape and that is the role model for us all if we want to keep diving into our senior years. I certainly do.”
The research was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.