Health Benefits of Kayaking

Health Benefits of Kayaking

In Beginner Kayaking Tips, Health and Fitness, Kayaking by Jamie Wilkinson30 Comments

Health Benefits of Kayaking

Aside from the gorgeous views and memorable times you’ll have, there are many positive physical and mental health benefits of kayaking that come with it.

Being a low impact activity, kayaking is a great choice for people with bad knees or hips. I enjoy running. Sometimes my knees just don’t want to work like they did years ago though, so kayaking is a great replacement for me.

Main Health Benefits of Kayaking

  • Increased Cardiovascular Health – A healthy heart is important
  • Improved Muscle Strength 
  • Increased Mental Health
  • Social Benefits – Meet new people
  • Reduced Stress
  • Low Impact Exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Core muscles are strengthened
  • Vitamin D Exposure  – boosts energy and mood!

If you’re completely new to kayaking, check out our Beginners Guide to Kayaking after you’ve read about how healthy kayaking is for your body.

Can I Lose Weight Kayaking

checking weight loss from kayakingOf course!

Kayaking is a cardiovascular exercise, much like jogging or a treadmill. You get out of it what you put into it.

This means floating down the river with your feet up and head back isn’t the same as paddling hard upriver of a strong current.

It’s all about perspective!

So yes, you can absolutely lose weight if you incorporate kayaking into your exercise routine. But you can’t rely solely on kayaking for weight loss. You’ll need a healthy, balanced diet, and a variety of exercises to achieve proper weight control.

Is Kayaking a Cardiovascular Exercise?

Is kayaking a cardiovascular activityAbsolutely!

While a lot of your core muscles are used to paddle, the constant movements create a great aerobic workout. Just like in the gym, if you want to get your heart elevated, paddle a bit harder. Challenge yourself to make it to that next rock or bend in the river.

Kayaking for exercise should be treated the same as any aerobic exercise, 30 minutes or more a day. But you shouldn’t rely solely on kayaking to get your cardio for the day. Mix up your routine to get a healthy, well-rounded body.

How Many Calories Will You Burn Kayaking

calories burned from kayaking signThere’s no simple answer to this one. It really depends on the amount of effort you’re putting into paddling.

My wife prefers to paddle for a few minutes, then coast for a few, very long, minutes. While I prefer to just keep paddling. Obviously, my calories burned will be much higher than hers for the day.

If you have a smartwatch or heart rate monitor that you wear, you’ll more accurately be able to determine your calories burned.

According to the American Council on Exercise, the average calories burned for a person weighing 125 lb is 283/per hour. For a 150lb person, it’s 340 calories/per hour and 454 calories for a 200lb person. I’d say that’s pretty good for paddling down a river for fun.

What Muscles are Used When Kayaking

What muscles do you work when kayakingSometimes after paddling hard for a few hours straight, it feels like every, single, muscle in my body was used. Actually, that’s not too far from the truth.

Kayaking does use a lot of your core muscles. The core muscles include your abs and obliques as well as your back muscles. Core muscles help us keep our balance as well as provide a lot of the strength to our movements.

Keep doing those crunches for a stronger core!

As well as your core muscles, the muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back are all used in conjunction. From your forearms that hold your paddle grip tight to the biceps that help pull the water closer, your entire upper body is in motion.

Even your thigh muscles and hips get a good workout while kayaking. Everything is connected to your core.

See, there are a lot more muscles involved than you thought.

This is why practicing proper posture and proper technique is important. Improper paddling practices can cause injury. (try and say that 3x fast)

Stretching Before Kayaking

stretching before kayakingThat’s a great question, and if you’re thinking about it, you already know the answer.

Of course, you should stretch!

Stretching before any physical activity is important to prevent injuries. Warming up your body beforehand will help limit cramps, strains, or tears.

Remember that even though you’re using some leg muscles, they are mainly idle, so they need extra stretching!

Yoga is another wonderful option for getting your body stretched out, loose, and warmed up.

It’s advised to stretch for 10-15 minutes before and after paddling to help your body recover quickly.

Trust me, your body will thank you!

Your Legs During Kayaking

legs and kayakingTypically your legs aren’t used in kayaking unless you got yourself a rudder or a peddle kayak.

Yes, a kayak with pedals.

While I don’t own one and I can’t say I’ve ever been in one, they do look like a pretty cool idea.

Anyway, usually your legs aren’t used while paddling so when you take your lunch breaks or bathroom breaks, you’ll need to make sure that you take the time to stretch out your legs.

I usually like to do some jumping jacks or some jogging in place when we stop. This helps get the blood flowing so they don’t fall asleep on me.

Kayaking With a Bad Back

back problems and kayakingOnly you and your doctor know the severity of any back problems you may have, this is based solely on my experiences. Always check with your physician before trying any new activity you feel could cause injury.

I’ve had back problems since I was a teenager. It was always out of alignment and I suffered from constant muscle pain. Nothing severe, but enough to cause me a headache.

Sitting or standing too long are my problems. I can’t do either one for too long without having some sort of pain going on.

Surprisingly, when I kayak, I can sit for much longer with less pain. I absolutely attribute this to the fact that my kayak seat basically forces me to sit straight up with proper posture. I don’t normally have good posture and that’s my problem. 🙂

This could be the case for you as well and you’ll find that kayaking helps you sit up straight.

Being a low impact activity though, it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone to get out there and paddle.

The most difficult parts for a new kayaker will be entering and exiting the kayak. Once this is mastered, you’ll find you have no problems. Check out our Beginner Kayaking Guide if you’re new to kayaking.  If you’re worried about flipping and you’re not sure what to do, check here for What to do if You Capsize.

Exercises That are Good For Kayaking

what exercises to improve kayakingSince we know that kayaking is a healthy, low impact, aerobic activity, and we have fun doing it, how do we build our paddling strength to go faster and for longer?

Kayaking is just like any other sport you’ve ever done. Proper training and practice go a long way in improving.

While paddling every day sounds like an awesome plan, some of us just can’t do that. Whether it be because of location, access, or time limits, kayaking daily just doesn’t work for everyone.

There are plenty of exercises and aerobic activities you can do on land that will help improve your paddling.

Cardio is important. Get your 30 minutes a day doing anything active.

Go for a run, bike ride, or hit the elliptical. Building your cardio endurance will improve your paddling endurance.

Next is building the muscles you’ll be using. Since we know which muscles we use when we kayak, finding exercises that focus on those muscle groups should be simple.

Our core muscles are used significantly so working on them is essential.

Good core workouts involve all the muscles in that group including your abs, obliques, and back. Crunches are always a great idea as well as planks.

planks to build your core musclesI hate doing planks.

They burn like hell.

But it’s because they work.

You’ll also want to work your shoulders, biceps, triceps and yes, your legs. Getting a full body workout is much better overall.

Rather than focusing on one particular muscle group, evenly incorporate them all into your routine.

Working your entire body will improve your overall fitness and paddling ability.

Are There Any Mental Health Benefits to Kayaking

If paddling down a tree-lined river, while natures animals emerge from the banks, doesn’t help your mental health, I’m not sure what will.

Many people find the relaxing trip down a river to be a sort of meditation. So peaceful and at one with nature.

Personally, for me, I find it sort of cathartic to be paddling the same rivers that Native Americans once did.

The Schuylkill River that I often paddle, was crossed by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

Mental health benefits of kayakingHow crazy is that?

I’m paddling the exact same river as the first President of the United States of America did.

Thinking about things like that while I paddle definitely eliminates any stress I had before I hit the river.

Being on the river all day exposes you to loads of Vitamin D from the sun. Of course, wear sunscreen, but the benefits of vitamin d for your body are amazing.

You’ll have boosts of adrenaline for sure when you’re getting close to that next rapid. Hearing the water crashing on the rocks ahead gets your heart pumping and your blood racing.

That’s adrenaline and it feels great!

Releasing adrenaline does wonderful things for your body. Coming out of a successful rapid, your self-esteem is shooting through the roof.

Yes, there are plenty of mental health benefits to kayaking!

What if I Have No Friends

Don’t worry, I’ll be your friend!

Seriously though, kayaking is a great way to meet people that enjoy the same activity as you. It’s easy to find a local club or facebook group that does group paddles in your area.

You can also find guided group kayak trips in most places so not only will you meet new people, you’ll see new sites.

So get out there and join a club or group. You already know that kayaking is a common hobby so it should be easy to meet new paddle buddies!

Can I Kayak as a Senior

kayaking as a seniorIf you’re thinking about kayaking as a senior, just do it! Talk to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you, but why not?

You’ve made it this far in life and you’re still alive, get out there and try something new.

Kayaking is such a low impact activity that even if paddling gets a little strenuous, all you do is take a break.

Getting in and out of the kayak will be the biggest problem you’ll face as a senior. The kayak is sometimes unstable and you could easily lose your balance. Hopefully, you’ll just fall into the water, uninjured, but the chance of being hurt is there.

Having a helping hand to assist you getting in and out would be a great idea.

Once you’re on the kayak, you’re all set!

Are There Any Disadvantages to Kayaking

The only disadvantage to being a kayak enthusiast is living in a place that has winter.

Sure, I could get a dry suit and still spend some time on the river. The very very cold river. I prefer not to do that.

If however, you’re one of the lucky ones who live in a warmer area and have the ability to kayak year round, there are no disadvantages!

safety while kayakingNow, don’t get me wrong, you could still easily be injured while kayaking.

Aside from having improper technique causing muscle strain or fatigue, capsizing and sustaining a head injury is quite possible.

Don’t be scared. If you’re just out on the local pond paddling around and you happen to capsize, the odds of a head injury are slim.

But, if you’re out on Class II rapids, and you’re bouncing off rocks to make it through, the odds are much higher you’ll get hurt.


  • Increased Cardiovascular Health – A healthy heart is important
  • Improved Muscle Strength 
  • Increased Mental Health
  • Social Benefits – Meet new people
  • Reduced Stress
  • Low Impact Exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Core muscles are strengthened
  • Vitamin D Exposure  – boosts energy and mood!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, there are so many health benefits of kayaking, it’d be silly to dispute.

Like any activity though, the risk of injuries is always present. Practice safe kayaking and your body will reap the rewards.

Remember to always mix up your exercise routine for full benefits to your overall strength and fitness.

Have Fun. Be Safe.

kayaking for mental health

Share this Post

About the Author

Jamie Wilkinson

A jack of all trades and master of none. I like do-it-yourself projects and working with all types of materials. Being on the water is one of my favorite things to do. Kayak camping is something I wish I could do year round.


  1. I was so glad to see the not having friends portion. I’m a little scared to do this alone but it seems like this would be a great way to meet new people and possibly get some tips from others who are more experienced.

    1. Author

      Absolutely!! Almost every time we head out we run into fellow paddlers.
      There’s also a few paddling clubs in our area that have weekly group paddles. Great way to meet new folks.

  2. I’ve never tried kayaking before. I should try it out one day. I’d probably tip over because I am so uncoordinated, but it would still be fun!

  3. We’ve gone kayaking once before on a trip to Tennessee! It was so beautiful,but man did it wear us out~!

    1. Author

      For sure!! The most I’ve done in one day is about 18 miles. I was done after that. Got in the hammock and crashed till morning.

  4. This is really interesting and beneficial. The only problem is I am totally terrified of being in a small vessel amd paddling myself through fast running water all I think of is capsize already maybe one day I will have the courage.

    1. Author

      Try a lake or a pond first! No fast running water or rapids then. And if you do fall in, you’ll just get a little wet, no worries.

    1. Author

      You and me both! Seems like this winter is just dragging on and on.. They’re calling for snow again on Monday here. Snow. In April.

  5. I have been kayaking a bit on holiday but that’s it. It was a fun experience but we just did it on a lake so we did not go very far. I was not aware of all the benefits though!

    1. Author

      Lakes are great for relaxing. We usually paddle out to the middle and just watch. Eat some lunch. Then slowly paddle around the shoreline checking out the wildlife.

  6. I’ve been considering getting into rowing a while ago and kayaking sounds like an interesting option for summer sports. I didn’t know it had so many benefits for health and I’d have no problem with the planks for physical conditioning; I enjoy doing them. Kayaking for Beginners is worth checking. Nice guide you put together there!

    1. Author

      You can do my planks for me then. Lol
      It really is a great low impact activity. I’ve been trying to get my parents to try but they just aren’t having it.
      If you’re really adventurous, give kayak camping a try!

  7. Never heard of Kayaking. Thanks for sharing the information about it.

  8. Great article! I never knew kayaking had so much benefits, I love near the water so will try it out! it looks so much fun

  9. These are some really interesting health benefits that come from something as fun as Kayaking. What an amazing low impact activity.

    1. Author

      When I’m looking for a new place to kayak, I typically just open up Google Maps and look for blue (water). If the blue spot is large enough I look up the name of the lake, river, pond, creek, whatever, and see if and where I can drop my kayaks in. You can always do a search for local kayak rentals too. They’re a great resource for local paddling spots!

  10. It has been a long time since I went Kayaking, but I really enjoyed it when I did! Definitely something that gives you an all over workout.

  11. Who knew that with kayaking you could sit longer and not feel back pains as much. I would imagine that it’d be terrible for those who have back problems like myself.

    1. Author

      Not at all!! I think it’s because most kayak seats pretty much force you to have good posture. I have had back issues since I was a teen. Can’t sit too long, can’t stand too long, but kayaking doesn’t irritate my back in the least bit. Give it a try and you’ll be surprised!

  12. I never tried kayaking and I think I would be pretty scary at first. I wold keep on thinking that the kayak would turn and I would drown. It’s amazing how many benefits it has. I think I would give it a try.

    1. Author

      Yeah, that seems to be a fear for a lot of people. You can always start out on a lake or large pond. This will help you get comfortable in a kayak and help you realize you won’t flip over THAT easily. Check out the post “Do Kayaks Tip Easily” and you’ll find some tips on what to do if you do flip.

  13. I would never think of Kayaking as a ‘sport’ or ‘exercise.’ These are a lot of health benefits! I liked reading this, I need to get back on the water. Thanks for sharing!

  14. This is really useful info! I never thought about kayaking as a form of low impact exercise. I usually suggest swimming for people who need low impact.

  15. I can imagine Kayaking would help in so many different ways. I know the health benefits of all that exercise in the upper body and even lower body would be amazing.

  16. Pingback: Is Kayaking a Good Exercise? - Staying Healthy - Kayak Camping World

Leave a Comment