Exercises to Improve Body & Brain Power

Exercise is a powerful tool to optimize brain function and your overall scuba performance. Scientists used to believe that adult neurons couldn’t regenerate. Little did they know that aerobic exercises such as the ones described here encourage the development of new neurons. In fact, even people with dementia, a neurodegenerative disorder, have shown a 34 percent decrease in cognitive degradation following cardiovascular exercise three times a week.

Complex aerobic exercise increases cognitive flexibility and interneuron communication. This is important for executive brain function, which allows the shift of attention and the ability to produce creative problem-solving strategies. Open-water diving takes place in a dynamic environment. Improved cognitive flexibility may allow divers to recognize more quickly any changes in their environment and to come up with novel solutions to adapt to those changes. For a diver, this maximizes dive efficiency by increasing the connections between memories of learning to dive, previous dive experiences and muscle memory. This efficiency allows a diver to respond to a challenging situation more quickly.

The following complex exercises should be completed in sequence with little rest in between. Your ultimate goal is to maintain an elevated heart rate for at least 30 minutes to achieve optimal cognitive and physical benefits. Start with 10 minutes, and gradually increase the duration as your exercise tolerance builds. Many of these movements have multiple steps, so be patient. The sequences are designed to challenge your coordination, improving visual and motor integration.


Overhead Cross Jacks (30 seconds)
Lateral Squat with Cross (20 repetitions/side)
Overhead Cross Jacks (30 seconds)
Burpee to Side Plank (10 repetitions/side)

Overhead Cross Jacks

Woman stands up and crosses leg across the other, and crosses arm over head.

This is similar to a traditional jumping jack, but arms go up only one at a time, and when legs come together, they crisscross, alternating which foot is placed in front of the other. Notice that both the hands and feet cross the midline of the body while your arms are doing different movements bilaterally.


  1. Start with hands at your sides.
  2. Jump both feet apart, swinging one arm low behind your buttocks and one arm high above your head.
  3. Jump both legs in, crossing one in front of the other. Reverse arm position.
  4. Jump both legs out.
  5. Continue for 30 seconds. Once you have mastered the movement, see how many repetitions you can complete in 30 seconds.

Lateral Squat with Cross

Woman standing and then shot of woman with legs open and reaching across chest

Sit back into the squat position, keeping your weight through your heels and eyes toward the sky. Try to get as deep into the squat as you feel comfortable. Your range of motion will naturally increase with each workout. Make sure you focus on form. Complete 20 repetitions to each side.


  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight at your sides.
  2. Step laterally (to the side) as far as you can, and squat down as low as you can. Don’t step or squat beyond what’s comfortable.
  3. Simultaneously, bring your arm across your chest. If you are squatting to the right, bring your right arm across your chest.
  4. Return to starting position, and repeat on the opposite side.

Burpee to Side Plank

Try to hold each plank position for as long as you can while maintaining a straight body. Work up to holding each plank pose for 30 seconds. Complete 10 repetitions to each side.


Sequence of three photos: Woman has knees to elbows; woman in side plank position; woman in plank position
  1. Start standing with both arms extended above your head.
  2. Squat down, placing your hands on the floor.
  3. Step or jump your feet back until you are in plank position.
  4. Transfer weight onto one hand in side plank position.
  5. Transfer weight back to plank.
  6. Jump feet in and stand up, raising arms overhead.
  7. Repeat on opposite side.

NOTE: To avoid an increased risk of decompression sickness, DAN® recommends that divers avoid strenuous exercise for 24 hours after making a dive. Always make sure that you have medical clearance to exercise during your annual physical exam or following any changes in your state of health.

© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2011