As early as the 1950s, scientific research began demonstrating that sports have significant benefits. Early research focused on physical activity in team sports, but today, research is broader and looks at mental as well as physical changes. It also looks beyond team sports to include adventure/extreme sports like mountain biking, kayaking, base jumping, and (of course) scuba. The latest findings suggest that sports that give an adrenaline rush develop skills that apply to everyday life.
Life Lessons: Confidence, Self-Reliance, Self-Control
Adventure sports tend to be more individual and have a perceived higher degree of risk than competitive team sports. This helps participants learn to rely on themselves as they stretch beyond their comfort zones, which builds confidence. But, many adventure sports (including diving) have strong teamwork aspects, which develops socialization and cooperative interaction skills much as do team sports. Anecdotal and research evidence finds that adventure-sport participants tend to be calmer, more confident, mentally stronger, more self-disciplined and better able to handle stress situations. One study found that extreme sport participants who experience fear and close calls not only exhibited more ability to manage fear, but also more humility.
Connected to the Environment
Unlike field/stadium team sports, which are usually played on constructed ball fields, stadiums and parks, adventure sports take participants into the environment because almost all of them require relatively natural settings. The benefit of this is that adventure-sport participants tend to develop a positive, protective relationship with the environment because their activities are integrated with it rather than separated from it. This social benefit, many argue, develops learners who are environmentally aware and sensitive, which is important because our collective future depends upon our relationship with the environment.
Old Dogs Do Learn New Tricks
Physical activity is known to benefit our health in our senior years, and now it seems that suitable mental challenges prevent – and in some ways can reverse – mental decline. Studies find that older adults who keep learning new skills tend to stay more active and enjoy better cognitive and memory performance. But, research finds that this learning must be challenging with demands on both thinking and memory. Most adventure sports require new skills, planning, assessing conditions and social interaction, making them good fits for the purpose of helping slow mental decline in older adults, as well as providing physical activity. The limiting factor for seniors is the ability to meet the physical requirements of a given adventure sport.
Of all adventure sports, diving is probably open to the widest range of age, culture, physical abilities and other demographic characteristics. It is likely the adventure sport with the widest access for senior participants. These characteristics make diving suited to offering benefits to -divergent markets with differing, specialized interests and needs.
- You’re not just “teaching scuba.” You’re teaching skills that have broad personal applications. This can be a useful message when presenting learn-to-dive opportunities to different groups as well as individuals.
- Market these “extra” benefits. Especially with institutions like youth, senior and environmental groups, it is exactly these developmental and environmental connections that add a reason to participate in diving or allow you to offer it to their members.
- Target the “nonteamers.” Scuba will appeal to many people who can’t or don’t want to participate in team sports, yet offer many of the same benefits.
- Target the “teamers,” too. Diving will also appeal to people who do like team sports. Scuba gives such groups something more individual in nature that they can do together, with some distinct challenges and benefits.
- Continue education. Senior divers may feel like they “just” want to be PADI® Open Water Divers, but continuing education offers new, deeper mental challenges, socialization and physical activity – all associated with benefits for older adults.
- Association for Psychological Science (2013) Learning new skills keeps an aging mind sharp. (psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/learning-new-skills-keeps-an-aging-mind-sharp.html)
- English Outdoor Council. Values and benefits of outdoor education, training and recreation. (englishoutdoorcouncil.org/Values_and_benefits.htm)
- Adventure sports. (learn.healthpro.com/adventure-sports/)
- Mathis, B. (2017) What are the benefits of adventure sports? (livestrong.com/article/149821-what-are-the-benefits-of-adventure-sports/)
- OMG Lifestyle (2017) Major health benefits of adventure sports. (omglifestyle.co.uk/major-health-benefits-adventure-sports/)
- Scott, K. (2015) The surprising benefits of extreme sports. (coach.nine.com.au/2015/10/19/13/34/the-surprising-benefits-of-extreme-sports)
- Smart Health Shop (2018) Surprising mental benefits of doing extreme sports. (blog.smarthealthshop.com/2018/04/10/surprising-mental-benefits-of-doing-extreme-sports/)
- org. The health benefits of sport and physical activity.(sportanddev.org/en/learn-more/health/health-benefits-sport-and-physical-activity)
- Vitelli, R (2012) Can lifelong learning help as we age? (psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201210/can-lifelong-learning-help-we-age)
- The Wellness Seeker, Extreme sports benefits and health promotion. (thewellnessseeker.com/extreme-sports-benefits-health-promotion/)
A version of this article originally appeared in the 4th Quarter 2018 edition of The Undersea Journal®.