Water covers over 70% of the earth, has varying depths and temperatures and contains much of the earth's resources. Head-out water immersion (HOWI) or submersion at various depths (diving) in water of thermoneutral (TN) temperature elicits profound cardiorespiratory, endocrine, and renal responses. The translocation of blood into the thorax and elevation of plasma volume by autotransfusion of fluid from cells to the vascular compartment lead to increased cardiac stroke volume and output and there is a hyperperfusion of some tissues. Pulmonary artery and capillary hydrostatic pressures increase causing a decline in vital capacity with the potential for pulmonary edema. Atrial stretch and increased arterial pressure cause reflex autonomic responses which result in endocrine changes that return plasma volume and arterial pressure to preimmersion levels. Plasma volume is regulated via a reflex diuresis and natriuresis. Hydrostatic pressure also leads to elastic loading of the chest, increasing work of breathing, energy cost, and thus blood flow to respiratory muscles. Decreases in water temperature in HOWI do not affect the cardiac output compared to TN; however, they influence heart rate and the distribution of muscle and fat blood flow. The reduced muscle blood flow results in a reduced maximal oxygen consumption. The properties of water determine the mechanical load and the physiological responses during exercise in water (e.g. swimming and water based activities). Increased hydrostatic pressure caused by submersion does not affect stroke volume; however, progressive bradycardia decreases cardiac output. During submersion, compressed gas must be breathed which introduces the potential for oxygen toxicity, narcosis due to nitrogen, and tissue and vascular gas bubbles during decompression and after may cause pain in joints and the nervous system.
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