Posted on Categories Discover Magazine
According to the United States Parachuting Association (USPA), around half a million people jump from airplanes for the first time each year. The average skydiver jumps from 13,000 feet, free falling for around a minute at 110 mph. Once the parachute opens, there’s typically around five minutes to take in the views as you descend towards Earth.
It’s a wild ride — one of the biggest adrenaline rushes that you can legally find. But your body wasn’t designed to barrel out of airplanes; so it begs the question: during this incredible adventure, what’s happening to the body?
Research has shown that when you’re skydiving your brain loses its perception of time. A 2007 study published in the journal of Behaviour Research and Therapy found that increased levels of fear leading up to the jump and also during it caused skydivers to think that the experience took longer than it does. Those who were more excited and less scared thought that the experience was much shorter. I guess time flies when you’re having fun.
The body also goes into flight or flight mode, meaning that the parasympathetic nervous system takes over in the build up to jumping. A June 2013 study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that both first time skydivers and those who were more experienced had similarly elevated salivary cortisol levels. “These findings support previous research demonstrating that skydiving elicits acute cortisol activation,” write the study authors.
Additionally, an April 2019 study published in the journal Biological Psychology found that levels of testosterone in the body were also impacted by skydiving. As cortisol levels increased so too did levels of testosterone, especially in “adventure seeking” individuals.
Not only do skydivers, novice and experienced, get a rush before each jump, they may also feel the pressure building in their ears and sinuses. According to a study in the April 2014 edition of Current Sports Medicine Reports, in the search for exhilarating sports like skydiving and scuba diving, the body may have difficulty adapting to massive changes in pressure.
The fast changes in altitude that occur during skydiving can cause “middle ear squeeze and sinus squeeze.” The change in pressure can cause pain, vertigo, headache and nausea and in some rare cases may impact the judgment of jumpers.
Additionally, skydiving could in some instances cause tummy troubles. If your ears pop and your equilibrium is off it can cause nausea. But most of this happens as a result of the aircraft, not jumping.
It’s important to note that when you jump out of a plane you’re not likely to experience the feeling of having your stomach drop. The sudden drop feeling that you might experience when cliff or bungee jumping doesn’t happen with skydiving because according to USPA, you’re flying through the air so fast that the air acts almost like a cushion. You may also feel like you’ve lost your breath for a second because of the rush of adrenaline but jumping from these heights does not require additional oxygen.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, make sure you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast preflight and that you’re well hydrated. Don’t drink any alcohol at all or do anything that could upset your stomach. But for the most part, skydiving does not cause motion sickness.
Skydiving does impact the body, but in some ways, we were made for this sort of adventure. And well, life is short. Or maybe not. Last June a 103-year-old woman became the oldest person in the world to jump from a plane. If she can do it, you too can be one of the half million people to take that 13,000 foot plunge.
Read More: How Do Roller Coasters Affect Your Body?