Kayaking is a physical sport, but it does so much more than strengthen your arms and upper body. It brings you closer to nature and places that are impossible to reach on two feet. At the same time, it positively impacts your psychological and physical well-being.
If you’ve been kayaking for a while, you probably already know several benefits it brings. But, for anyone new to the sport, we’ve picked out 17 ways kayaking can boost your mental health and physical fitness.
Physical Benefits of Kayaking
Aside from the fun and adventure, not to mention the scenic views that paddling provides, there are numerous physical benefits of kayaking.
1. Good for Weight Management
Weight maintenance is essential for living a healthy lifestyle. Yet, if you’re someone who has a lot of weight to lose, high-impact exercises like running and HIIT might be too much for your body to cope with.
Comparatively, kayaking places little stress on your joints and muscles, making it a suitable exercise for all ages and physical abilities. However, kayaking is still an excellent full-body workout. According to Harvard Health Publications, a 125-pound paddler will burn approximately 150 calories over a 30-minute activity – rising to 210 calories for a 180-pound paddler.
That may not sound very much compared to the 453 calories a 125-pound person can burn by running for 30 minutes. But, because kayaking is low impact, you’ll be able to exercise much longer. Plus, an afternoon on the water is way more fun than half an hour on a treadmill.
2. It’s a Low-Impact Exercise
As mentioned above, kayaking is a low-impact activity that puts very little stress on your body. It’s easy on the knees and ankles, making it suitable for people with mobility problems. Even though paddling and controlling a kayak requires core, leg, and arm muscles, you don’t need to spend hours lifting weights.
If you already live an active lifestyle, kayaking might be the perfect low-impact activity to do on your rest days. A few hours of gentle paddling won’t tire you out in the same way that cycling, running, or hiking would.
3. Builds Your Upper-Body Strength
Paddling is one of the best upper body workouts you can do without going to the gym or doing boring reps in your living room. Aside from toning your biceps, triceps, and forearms, kayaking uses most muscles in your upper body. That includes your shoulder, back, chest, and abdominal muscles.
Paddling further, faster, more frequently, or on challenging waters will build upper body strength without a single push-up!
4. Strengthens Your Core
Your upper and lower body need to work together to kayak well and tackle whitewater. Good kayaking technique requires a rotation through the core so that you feel each stroke from the paddle blade to your toes. This motion, and simply holding a correct kayak sitting position, works your abdominal muscles, lower back, and obliques.
Training your core muscles will help you balance and control your kayak. Moreover, building a strong core will improve your posture off the water, minimizing the pains and strains you feel in everyday life.
5. Tones Your Legs
To someone who hasn’t paddled before, kayaking might look like a lazy sport from the waist down. But, ask anyone who’s spent a day paddling a sit-inside kayak, and they’ll confirm that your legs aren’t taking a day off.
Although your arms and core are the main force behind kayaking, your legs are essential for balance, stability, and adding power to each stroke. Certain maneuvers, such as high and low braces, engage your legs as much as your upper body.
6. Increases Muscular Endurance
For most people, kayaking is a half-day activity at most. Even as a beginner, you’ll probably spend an hour or two on the water, progressing to a half-day, full-day, or even multiple days on the water.
Research shows that doing more repetitions of low-resistance exercises just two to three times per week is one of the most effective ways to improve muscle endurance. Resistance exercises include the motion of pulling your paddle through the water.
Fortunately, the effects of kayaking on your endurance levels are easy to measure. The stronger your muscles, the longer and further you’ll be able to paddle without stopping.
7. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Cardiac exercises are vital for strengthening your heart, raising the level of oxygen in your blood, and maintaining efficient blood circulation. Because kayaking is a form of aerobic exercise, doing it regularly can improve your cardiovascular health.
As a result, you may see several physical health benefits, including weight loss, reduced blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels.
8. It’s A Great Way to Get Vitamin D
A daily dose of vitamin D is essential for building your immune system, growing, and developing strong bones and teeth. Getting enough vitamin D can also help to boost weight loss and reduce symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, many people don’t get as much of this vital vitamin as they need.
Although it’s possible to get vitamin D through diet or supplements, the best way is to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Even on a shaded river, kayaking exposes you to UV rays allowing you to top up your vitamin D levels.
Mental Health Benefits of Kayaking
Putting the physical benefits aside, kayaking is a hobby that can elevate your mood, reduce stress, and fulfill your adventurous ambitions. Experts agree that spending time outside, in unpolluted areas and beautiful scenery is one of the best ways to nourish your mental health.
9. Relieves Stress
Physical exercise causes the brain to release endorphins, the ‘happy hormone.’ That’s why most of us feel in better spirits during and after a workout. Likewise, spending time in nature can make you feel relaxed.
Kayaking is a physical exercise you do outside, in nature, while lapping up vitamin D. It’s naturally one of the best activities you can do to relieve stress.
10. Boosts Your Confidence
Just like stress, exercise can help to combat low self-esteem. In the short term, exercise makes us feel happy. When we feel happy, we’re more likely to think positively of ourselves and our abilities. In the longer term, the reward of learning a new skill, improving fitness, and achieving self-set goals can give you the confidence boost you need.
Learning how to paddle a kayak is a challenge that hits all three criteria. Aside from getting physically fitter and stronger, you can set yourself fresh challenges. As a result, you’ll soon feel your paddle skills improve and your confidence soar when you exceed your goals.
11. Helps You Sleep Better
Plenty of research shows that exercise during the daytime can ease problems falling asleep and improve sleep quality. As a result, you spend less time tossing and turning in bed, making you less reliant on sleep medications, and wake up feeling refreshed. Plus, the more rested you feel, the better you’ll perform on the water.
12. Stimulates Memory
According to the experts at Harvard Health, regular moderate-intensity exercise can improve memory and thinking skills. This is partly because regular exercise leads to better sleep, improved focus, and elevated moods. So when you feel less stressed, and you’ve had a good night’s rest, it makes sense that your memory will work well.
But exercise also stimulates the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. This growth can both increase the number of brain cells you have and improve overall brain cell health. What’s more, exercise can significantly impact the hippocampus – the part of your brain that takes care of memory.
As kayaking is an aerobic activity that you can do at a low, moderate, or high-intensity level, it could be your ticket to a healthier brain.
13. Improves Learning
Moreover, developing new and healthy cells in the brain’s hippocampus doesn’t just help you retain information. Training this part of the brain can also make learning easier. According to Dr. John J. Ratey, aerobic exercise enhances your mind, making you more alert, focused, and motivated.
If you’re someone who struggles to stay awake in a lecture, or you daydream through most work meetings, you might want to add kayaking to your routine. A couple of hours a week focusing on your paddle stroke and getting your heart rate up might make an enormous impact on other areas of your life.
14. Prevents Cognitive Decline
We already know that regular exercise improves cognitive function. But did you know that it could also prevent or delay the onset of cognitive impairments such as dementia? For example, a study of exercise and cognitive function showed that older adults who exercised at least three times a week were less likely to suffer from dementia.
In short, kayaking does more than boost your current physical and mental health. Getting out on the water may also improve your quality of life in the future.
15. Gets You Outside and Exploring Nature
Whether you work at home or in an office, study, or enjoy watching TV from your couch, you probably spend most of your day inside four brick walls. Even if you’re super sporty, chances are you don’t exercise outside more than an hour each day. You may even do most of your exercise inside.
Kayaking is a sport that you can’t do inside. Most urban areas aren’t compatible with kayaking either, so you have to go out into nature to enjoy this outdoor sport. Fortunately, several cognitive benefits are linked to spending more time in nature, including feelings of happiness and connection to nature.
16. It’s A Great Way to Meet New People
Kayaking can also be a highly social sport. While you can head out on the water and kayak alone, going with a friend or two is always safer. Joining a kayaking club, paddle classes, or local events provides an opportunity to socialize and meet new people. Alternatively, you can reconnect with friends and family on a group outing.
Better yet, paddling a tandem kayak tests your cooperation and communication skills, making it an excellent team-building exercise.
17. It’s Fun!
Last but most importantly, kayaking is fun, challenging, and refreshing. It doesn’t just get you out of the house and away from roads, traffic, and crowded urban areas. Kayaking brings you closer to nature and allows you to learn new skills.
Don’t believe us about the incredible benefits of kayaking? Why not head down to your nearest waterway and try it for yourself?