Health Benefits of Kayaking

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.

  • 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.

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.

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.

There’s no simple answer to this one. It really depends on the amount of effort you’re putting into paddling.

Slow and Steady

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.

a comically muscular man paddling a kayak down a river

Sometimes 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)

That’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!

Typically 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.

back problems and kayaking

Only 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.

Low Impact for the Win.

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.

what exercises to improve kayaking

Since 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.

Living the Daily Kayak Life

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.

I hate doing planks.

They burn like hell.

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.

But it’s So Much Fun

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.

How 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!

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!

Kayak at Any Age

If 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!

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!

There’s Still a Risk

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.

silhouette man kayaking into the bright sunset

Jamie Wilkinson

I'm a fervent lover of the great outdoors, having spent countless hours soaking in the tranquility and beauty that nature offers. My passion for kayaking and camping has led me to explore numerous waterways and campgrounds, each journey adding to my treasure trove of experiences. Through, I aim to share these adventures and insights with you. My hope is to inspire fellow outdoor enthusiasts and provide valuable guidance, whether you're paddling your first kayak or setting up camp for the hundredth time. Dive into my articles, and let's embark on this outdoor journey together!

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