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Climbing Back Up the Hill November 11, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in CCR, Emergencies, Fitness and Nutrition.
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Until recently I did not dive enough. I started to forget how much I enjoyed it. In 2015 I only dived a couple of times, and I started to wonder whether I was going to give it up altogether. I also let my weight creep up to almost 190 pounds, putting me just in the “Overweight” category of the Body Mass Index (BMI). I wasn’t exercising. My clothes were too tight.

Fortunately I signed up for a Florida Keys wreck diving trip last April and had a great time. The experience renewed my resolve to get in shape and I then and there decided to bring my weight down below 180. I didn’t have to do a whole lot to make that happen. My diet rules were pretty simple.

  • Avoid bread – not completely but most of the time. I love bread, but now it is more of a treat than a compulsion.
  • Lunches were mostly vegetable smoothies or soup (without bread!). Later, I found a bean salad recipe that I really like, and if I’m at work and haven’t brought anything in I’ll get some take out Sushi or Sashimi.
  • Avoid overeating at any single meal. I can easily wolf down large quantities of pizza. Now I limit to 2 slices.
  • Avoid free food. In our society there are countless opportunities to consume excess calories, like someone bring doughnuts into the office or all-you-can-eat buffets. No longer.

These simple rules worked so well that my weight just kept dropping. By July I was in the mid 170’s, and I was slightly affronted when I attended my physical and my doctor said that my BMI was a bit on the high side at just under 24. Then came the opportunity to conduct a Wreck Diving course in August. That went quite well but I thought I was working too hard even though I’d been getting in better shape working in the garden all Summer. I had to do more exercise.

Meanwhile the weight kept going down. After a long weekend of diving doubles I decided I was going get a CCR (closed circuit rebreather) and felt that there would be a benefit in getting into better shape so I started a simple exercise program. It consists of walking an incline on a treadmill for 30 minutes or so every day, 20 minutes of stretching, and doing some crunches and push-ups every other day. I  walk outside instead of using transit or driving when there’s time. To increase cardiopulmonary capacity the incline will go up by 1% (about 1/2 a MET) each month, so by midsummer 2017 it will be at the treadmill’s maximum. I’m also managing my diet by consuming more protein through food or the addition of protein powder to make up the calories burned by the exercise.

Now I’m down to 160 pounds – way less than I’d planned. BMI is 22, close to the middle of the normal range. There’s still some fat around the midriff but further weight loss is not in the plans. For the next phase I’m going to stay at 160 and try to change body composition with exercise. Despite a normal BMI people call me thin. Is that because we’re used to seeing more overweight people these days, including me 6 months ago?

By staying on the diet the current weight is easy to maintain. If below 160, I add a glass of orange juice to breakfast. That’s worked so far but more might be needed. I’m not stressed about it and avoid fanaticism, but embrace discipline.

Like quitting smoking, the hardest part is deciding. Deciding is not the same as wishing or wanting. The rewards are many, with the greatest being the capacity to keep diving for years to come, greater overall health and better fitting clothes. The flip side is that diving provides much of the motivation to keep exercising – a virtuous circle about which I remind my wife often.

Lastly, I’d like to address a common comment that divers often get from their non-diving friends. It goes something along the lines of why would you do something that can kill you? Often we respond with something like “you can die just crossing the street, if we all thought like that we’d never leave our homes”. While I agree, there’s a more fortuitous response, which is more like “By diving, training to dive and staying in shape to dive, I’m actually increasing my chances for survival. I also hang out with people who are trained in lifesaving and like myself can maintain self-control in emergency situations.”


CCR, O2 Consumption & Exercise October 31, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in CCR, Fitness and Nutrition, Technical Diving.
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With a little less than 12 hours diving a CCR, I’m now venturing to comment on a technical aspect of the experience which dawned on me recently. Surely I’m not the first to think about a CCR in this way, but I’ve not come across this analysis previously and wanted to record my thoughts about it here.

The more I dive the more I concern myself with staying fit, as I’m not getting any younger, and that gets me thinking about both capacity to expend energy and calorie consumption. Rebreather training tells me that when things are going right, bubbles are only released upon ascent, which is just the excess volume from the loop as the gas expands with the decreased ambient pressure. Other than this, all the Oxygen consumed during the dive is metabolized by the diver.

Fitness evaluations are frequently done by measuring inspired Oxygen, and except for what is released on ascent the CCR will measure that based the change in O2 tank pressure. I found this article that directly relates calories burned to O2 consumption and also relates O2 consumption to METS (metabolic units, a measurement of energy used in exercise) and body weight.

I’ll give an example, which for simplicity I’ll use metric units. My CCR has a 2 litre tank, which can be filled to 230 bar. So its capacity is 460 litres. Say I do a 60 minute dive and the pressure in the tank goes from 230 bar to 180 bar, a consumption of 100 litres of Oxygen. Ignoring the bubbles on ascent, I’ve burned 500 calories (100 litres at 5 calories/litre).

I weigh 72.3 Kg right now. 1 MET energy output uses 3.5 ml of O2 per kg of body weight per minute of activity, so if we know our O2 consumption in litres the average number of METs used in the dive will be (litres x 1000) / (body weight x minutes x 3.5). So if it were me doing this dive my average energy expended would have been about 6.6 METs, which is a little less than this source gives for slow cross-country skiing.

Coincidentally, according to the calculator on this site, my current treadmill regime of 3.5 MPH at 6% slope also requires 6.6 METs (BTW tomorrow I increase to 7% slope or 7.1 METs).


So I’m inspired (pardon the pun) to think that this yet another great feature CCR diving. I can now, with reasonable accuracy, determine the calorie expenditure on a dive, and replenish accordingly. I also know how hard I’ve been working on the dive and train to that level.

Regarding the bubbles on ascent, there’s probably reasonable way to estimate how much O2 is going overboard. Fodder for a future post, no doubt.

Diving in the News, Oct 27, 2012 October 27, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Emergencies, Fitness and Nutrition, Miscellany, Training.
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A La Jolla, California diver died in hospital after losing consciousness on a boat dive. It seems that everything that could have been done was done to save him. The cause appeared to be a medical problem, and the diver appeared to be over 40. From the news at least it seems that the most common cause of death among divers is medical problems with older divers. Fitness would clearly be a good thing, but so might better training and skills. Diving should be relaxing, not physically stressful. I’ve reported on fatalities in La Jolla before. A solo diver died there in September, and a man died on his first solo dive at 155′ a few years back.

The Healthful Effects of Deep Diving September 5, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition, Technical Diving.
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Maybe just diving in general. Mind you, I’m speaking subjectively with a sample size of one, so statistically this means absolutely nothing.

In the days leading up to last weekend’s diving, I was wondering if I was starting to get too old for the technical diving I’m doing. I’ve had issues with a torn meniscus (makes my knee a little stiff), and some days I get up and don’t feel 100%. When I left for Brockville on Saturday morning I felt OK, but I was a little edgy, and wondered if I should be diving at all, especially the 170′ fast current drift dive in dark water with limited visibility.

I’m glad I did. When I got out of the water I felt great and still feel great writing this today. What I really needed was a good dose of Adrenalin and Nitrogen Narcosis to shake off the stress of my life on the earth’s surface.

Back to the Florida Keys April 24, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Emergencies, Fitness and Nutrition.
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It’s almost time to say goodbye to my 1996 Toyota Camry, which has been a delightful car to drive for the last 15 years but is now starting to really show its age. It’s mostly used for either getting around town, going to the occasional visit to my in-laws in London Ontario (about 200 km each way), or dive trips. The trunk (boot, for those of you reading outside of North America), has taken more than its fair share of abuse, having been subjected many times to wet dive gear, including a set of double steel tanks. It now takes some determination to make it latch shut.

So when the I signed up for the trip, I figured I’d drive it, if any one would want to come along with me. The advantage of driving is money saved and the ability to take more gear, especially tanks. Due to a medical condition of one of our group, we didn’t know if there would be 2 or 3 of us, and the Camry would really only fit 2 people plus gear. It turned out to be just 2, so on Tuesday night we packed the Camry with more gear than one could reasonably expect it to hold, ready for the drive the following day.

The trunk held Matt’s twin LP steel 125s (insanely huge) and my twin steel 95s (just huge). To my surprise Matt had another set of 95s in his garage belonging to our local dive shop owner, so we brought them as well. We also squeezed 2 AL80s and some luggage, including one of the other club member’s backplate and wings. Behind the driver seats we stuffed 2 more AL80s, 2 LP steel 50s, and an LP steel 45. On the back seat we had all our dive gear, laptops, and other sundry equipment.

All this meant the rear tires were almost scraping the wheel wells, despite trying to put some of the load forward of the rear axle.

At 5AM I headed over to Matt’s and we set the GPS for the Keys. With the early departure traffic was building but light, so we avoided highway 407 (North America’s most expensive toll road) and had no problems clearing the Greater Toronto Area. Amazingly there was no line-up to customs and they didn’t question our heavily loaded vehicle. Traffic was pretty light the whole way, with the worst being perhaps Charlotte, North Carolina – a bit heavy but no delays.

On the way we discussed driving through the night but figured that we wouldn’t be able to schedule any Thursday diving so we opted to stay the night in Southern Georgia with about 800km left to go. The following day was an uneventful drive down the coast of Florida and we arrived in Key Largo and went straight to Silent World, where we’d arrange a dive charter for the following day.

We needed deco mix for the dive (EAN50) as our shop couldn’t get any Oxygen for our fills prior to leaving. We found them closed, but their sign said open. As we were leaving we asked a guy who was driving in if he knew where the owner was, and he took us to the Garden Cove Marina where they were unloading from an afternoon dive charter. We waited for them to unload in the Shipwreck Bar and got everything sorted out.

Unfortunately there was also a commotion at the end of the dock where paramedics were attended to a 69 year-old doctor from Michigan who had died while snorkeling. The cause of death isn’t known at this time but heart attacks are common during periods of unusually strenuous activity in older people. A sobering thought as I continue my technical diving pursuits as I get older.

We went back to the shop and got everything sorted out for the next day, expecting to dive the Duane. The car now had about 2,600 more kilometres (1,650 miles) on the odometer than it had a couple of days before.

Unintentional Altitude Dive November 22, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition.
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I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale from Toronto on Thursday night (wreck diving in the Keys) and had an interesting problem.

Curious to know what the barometric pressure was in the aircraft cabin (about 790) I turned on my Shearwater Pursuit. I’m pretty sure I turned it off but I’m not totally certain.

The next day, while getting my gear together, I noticed it was not only on, but it showed that I was at a depth of 7 feet. The only way I could turn the computer off was to remove the battery. Fortunately a Canadian dollar coin was available.

Heading up to Brockville July 18, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving, Training.
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Last night I went over to the dive shop to pick up my tanks. It was a little confused, with about a dozen divers filling and blending Nitrox for the wreck diving course in the St. Lawrence River. My tanks were filled and I took them away, although I left my new (bought used) Faber 45 tank which Ron said he’d bring up once it had been topped off with air. Dave also donated his extra set of OMS steel 85 doubles to the cause, which I’m going to use on the first dive, which is a little shallower than the other two.

I got a late start and caught in traffic on the way up today, and didn’t get there until 8 pm, having left at 4. Traffic was heavy gettting out of Toronto and didn’t clear up until I was past Oshawa. When I got there, I started checking the mix on my tanks, and found that my doubles were at 39.5%, and Dave’s were about the same. For the Gaskin, with a maximum depth of 70 feet this is fine, but a little rich for the Kinghorn which can go as deep as 95′.

Fortunately Rich, who’s only brough one set, had his at 36%, so I offered to let him use my doubles on the first dive, and he will refill mine with 36% tomorrow between the two dives. My two AL80s were also filled to 50%, which is a little more than I wanted, so now I have a ton of deco gas. We were supposed to bring 36% and 40% in these, so I hope some of the other guys have that or we’re going to have to be careful how we do things, especially on the deeper dive. My new 45 cubic foot tank is also at 50%, which is fine, although I would have preferred 80% to get me out of the water faster on the last dive, which is a little bit long.

We didn’t end up diving tonight – too bad, but it would have been too late for me anyway with the late start.

Off and on the wagon April 30, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition.
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No, not that wagon. I don’t drink a lot these days. I’m talking about exercise. For almost a year I was really disciplined exercising 6-7 times a week, except on diving days, but when I went to Cozumel I fell out of the habit having spent 2 weeks on the beach and under the water. When I got back there was a recovery time where I didn’t exercise and I lost the momentum completely, exercising about once a week. While I tried to get back in the groove, driving nonstop to Florida killed it once again.

This week though, thanks mostly to the encouragement of my wife, I’m back at it. I have to report how hard it is to bring myself up to the level I was at, especially with running. I think for every week I’ve taken off it will take about a month to restore things to former levels. It just goes to show how fleeting cardiovascular fitness is, and how much dedication it takes to keep it going.

Travel is always the problem. It disrupts sleep and makes it hard to motivate myself to get up a little earlier (I’m talking 4:45 here, vs. 5:30 on weekdays) to fit the workout in. Every time I take a trip I have to struggle to get back at it. On the other hand, I feel so much better when I’m fit that I am determined to take the time to get back to my February levels.

Living on Vegetables April 13, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology, Fitness and Nutrition.
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Trying to stay healthy into my old age so I can keep on diving is a challenge. Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol down can be a difficult as you age, and I lot of people I know that are my age are taking Lipitor and other medicines. That’s always an option but I’m doing my best to fight it without resorting to a lifetime on prescription drugs.

One of the things that’s changed slowly over the last 20 years is that we eat a lot less meat than we used to. We’re down to once or twice a month now, and the less we eat it the less we like it. We eat fish, mostly salmon, once a week, and there’s a scallop dish (based on a fiery Thai shrimp recipe) that’s a Saturday night staple, but otherwise it’s vegetables supplemented by low fat cottage cheese to keep the protein content up. Scallops by the way are very low in cholesterol, unlike shrimp.

It’s tough to make this kind of diet appetizing, although I like hot pepper and for me a little or a lot of pepper sauce is great addition to most vegetable dishes, along with other herbs and spices. It’s all the more important as I don’t add salt to anything.

But one thing we learned in cooking school I’ll share, and I think it’s important both environmentally and gastronomically, is the creation of vegetable stock. As we eat of lot of stews and soups, using stock instead of water adds a lot of flavour. Stock cubes, like Knorr or Oxo, are full of salt and who-knows-what-else, and I try to avoid them. We used to make chicken stock, but as we don’t each chicken more than twice a year or so we can’t make it any more.

So what I learned was that all the things that normally get thrown in the garbage like the ends of carrots, potato peelings, stalks of herbs, onion and garlic skins, or just about anything else can be set aside for making stock. So we just stick it in a container, along with any water used for steaming, and freeze it after a week. Once we have a bunch of containers it all gets boiled into vegetable stock, which is then used and/or frozen for later use. It adds a ton of flavour to anything we cook and is free.

Once the stock is made, all the vegetables are tossed into the composter along with coffee grounds, tea bags, paper towels, wine corks, apple cores, banana skins, avocado pits and so on to support my wife’s gardening habit, and along with the paper, cardboard, glass and plastic recycling we hardly have any non-recyclable garbage to speak of. In fact, most of that garbage consists of plastic bags, which we (a) reuse at least once, and (b) are trying to cut down on. We’ve even started to bring home compostable stuff from lunch at work which may be bordering on fanaticism.

It’s a contribution. I still don’t feel it’s enough.

Scuba Diving 2009 New Year’s Resolutions January 2, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition.
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I’m good at resolutions, and each year try to refine them into new ways to improve my life. 2008 was probably my best year for staying in shape. I estimate that I did some kind of workout at least 320 of the 366 days of the year, which is definitely a record for me. In August, as a result of my elevated cholesterol readings, I really clamped down on my diet, which is now primarily vegetarian, with a bit of fish, and chicken or occasionally lamb (I was born in Australia so will have a hard time giving it up completely) every 2nd or 3rd week. I’ve given up cheese, which I love, except for a sprinkling of Parmesan on our home made pizza, and 1% cottage cheese which I use as a supplemental source of protein. I also celebrated 27 years without smoking a few days ago, and have really cut back on alcohol as I’m liking it less and less.

On my doctor’s advice I upped the amount of fibre in my diet. He recommended 20 grams a day, but I read some authorative information (CSIRO in  Australia) that indicated 35 grams would be helpful, and listed a number of foods that help lower cholesterol, including oat bran, apples, tree nuts, blueberries, and many other things, most of which I’ve managed to incorporate into my diet. I’ll find out if this strategy works on my next blood test in early February.

I’ve also been working on getting my weekly running distance up to 20 miles, and some weeks I can do it. My two longest runs are on Saturday and Sunday, so if I’m diving I usually shorten them or forego them completely. Sometimes I have to walk a small portion of these runs because my heart rate is excessive, but that doesn’t change the distance a lot.  I think over time the walking will become unnecessary – unless of course I increase the speed.

So this year I’ve decided to (a) keep up the good work, (b) add two sessions of lap swimming per week to my exercise routine. I usually work at home on Tuesdays and Fridays and think I can squeeze in an hour for swimming on both these days without compromising work. My local recreation complex has a 25 metre pool which I can use for only $2.50 (2.09 USD) and a large, clean change and locker room with excellent showers.  (c) If possible, try to incorporate additional stretching and even some meditation to my schedule. I’ve mapped out the schedule and there’s  not much time left available. So it may come down to stretching while watching TV (I’m a PVR addict but at least I watch good, commercial-free television) and meditating on the train to or from work. (d) Do some kind of workout even on dive days. This may be as little as a warm-up and some stretching, but if I have to get up 1/2 an hour earlier so be it. (e) Drink more water. This is good for diving and good for general health. Sometimes I remember to do this, most of the time I don’t. I hereby resolve to remember to drink more water.

My non-fitness resolutions are as follows:

  • Do some interesting technical dives – I’m banding together with some of my chums and we’re looking at diving the Oriskany in late winter/early spring, the wrecks of Long Point in late spring/early summer, and I’m hoping to convince them to make the trek to Whitefish Bay in eastern Lake Superior sometime in the late summer. It’s only about 7 hours by road. In addition I’ll be diving the St. Lawrence in Brockville a couple of times (hopefully we’ll find the Jodrey this time), the usual wrecks in Tobermory (Forest City, Arabia, and Niagara II), and perhaps Kingston again.
  • Complete my PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor course. This should happen in the Spring, although I have to do a prerequisite, the EFR Instructor Course, which is scheduled for January 24/25.
  • Do some teaching.  It would  be great to get the 25 certifications under my belt that would upgrade my instructor level to Master Scuba Diver Trainer, but with all the other stuff happening it might be a stretch.
  • Plan my dives more. I’d like to set objectives for dives, especially wreck diving – and do research up front to map out the things I’d like to see and do on the wrecks. I’d like to take slates down with me to take good notes, and do some underwater measurements in Big Bay Point and other places.
  • Log my dives in much greater detail. I’ve started to do this, and the detailed logs are appearing in this blog, of course.
  • Help my wife more around the house. This is a prerequisite for domestic harmony with all the diving I’m planning, and also a good thing to do. I’ll manage this by scheduling things better, including exercise before breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays, so the day isn’t half over by the time I’m done. Scheduling better means planning my time, and I’ve developed a schedule to guide me. As we don’t have children, there’s not all that much work to do, but I could still do more than I’ve been doing.
  • Stay focused on the things I want to do. A big fault of mine is getting involved in too many things. If I can keep focused on just the things I’m planning to get accomplished, then I’ll have plenty of time for them all, if I start thinking about all the things I’d like to accomplish, then I’ll get none of them done.

Phew. That’s a big list. There’s nothing in it that can’t be done, and I believe the effort will really be worthwhile. Good luck with your own resolutions out there, and have a safe, happy and prosperous 2009. I’ll let you know how I did this time next year.