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Thread: What freediving does to the body

  1. #1
    Registered Users myscubastory's Avatar
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    Feb 2011

    Default What freediving does to the body

    The Bajau people of South-East Asia live in stilt houses and fish underwater for up to five minutes on one breath. What does this do to the body?Take a deep breath in - how long until the urge to gasp for air becomes too much? Perhaps it comes after 30 or 40 seconds.

    But the bodies of habitual freedivers, who hold their breath for minutes at a time, can change to be better adapted to the water.The Bajau people, sometimes known as the sea gypsies of Malaysia and Indonesia, are renowned natural freedivers. Traditionally, they are born, live and die at sea, and fish by diving 20m (more than 65ft) underwater for minutes at a time on one breath.

    At this depth, water pressure is almost three times what it is on the surface, squeezing lungs already deprived of oxygen."I focus my mind on breathing. I only dive once I’m totally relaxed," says Sulbin, who goes into a trance-like state before entering the water.This degree of mind control is crucial, says freediving instructor Emma Farrell, the author of One Breath, A Reflection on Freediving. "You have to be warm and relaxed - you don’t want to hyperventilate before taking your last breath."
    Stilt houses of the Bajau Laut, off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo

    The mammalian dive reflex - seen in aquatic animals such as dolphins and otters, and in humans to a lesser extent - helps, says Farrell."It’s a series of automatic adjustments we make when submerged in cold water. It reduces the heart rate and metabolism to slow the rate you use oxygen."During breath-holding, oxygen stores reduce and the body starts diverting blood from hands and feet to the vital organs.Our bodies have a way to compensate. Underwater pressure constricts the spleen, squeezing out extra haemoglobin, the protein in red corpuscles that carry oxygen around the body.

    "Not enough research has been done to know if it wears off when you’re not diving," says Farrell. "But I know people who do a lot of deep training - as Sulbin does - whose blood is like that of people living at high altitude."In high altitudes, there is less oxygen and so the amount of haemoglobin in blood increases.
    Thanks to time spent in the water as children when the eyes are developing, the Bajau, in common with other coastal dwelling people, have unusually strong underwater vision.Their eye muscles have adapted to constrict the pupils more, and to change the lens shape to increase light refraction.This makes their underwater eyesight twice as strong, according to Anna Gislen, of Sweden’s Lund University, who from 2003 has compared the water vision of sea gypsy children of Thailand and Burma with that of European children. A gap that can narrow with training.

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    What do people think? Can free diving really affect us in this sort of way? I have heard it uses up you body and makes ppl age a lot more. But what about the effect on crushing you lungs etc? Let alone shallow water blackouts?
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  2. #2
    SMN Publisher The Publisher's Avatar
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    Apr 2007


    Sound like a good question for the freedivng physiologists.
    SMN Publisher

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