Physical And Mental Health Benefits Of Kayaking

Physical And Mental Health Benefits Of Kayaking

If you’ve ever headed out on the water for a paddling session, you know how quickly you begin to fall into a rhythm. Maybe the beauty of nature settles your soul. Perhaps the cadenced movements of your body challenge your strength and test your endurance. Whatever the reason, you always feel great when you paddle.

That’s because kayaking health benefits affect you physically and psychologically. Paddling is like a one-stop shop for your wellbeing. Here’s why.

Condition Your Core

Although the most obvious movements that you see a paddler perform utilize the arm and shoulder muscles, kayaking and canoeing are great for strengthening the core. Although many people take this to mean that you’ll get six-pack abs, your core goes deeper than that.

Core strength on the beach

Your core involves at least 35 different muscle groups. Some of these muscles connect the legs to the pelvis. Others support the spine and enhance its mobility. Most of the motions that you make with your upper or lower body originate in or move through your core.

Harvard Health Publishing likens your core to a chain that connects your upper and lower body. If the link at the center is weak, the functions of the ends of the chain will suffer. Some of the benefits of maintaining a strong core include:

  • Making daily activities, like putting on shoes, easier
  • Reducing soreness when performing on-the-job tasks or even sitting in a chair
  • Preventing and reducing back pain
  • Enhancing mobility while playing sports or doing chores
  • Increasing balance and stability
  • Promoting good posture

Simply sitting in a kayak engages your core. You need to stabilize your hips to prevent the boat from rocking side to side or even tipping over. You use your core muscles even more once you begin paddling. As your body weight shifts, you need to use your core to help you stay upright and power your paddle.

You can train your core on or off the water to strengthen it. Conditioning your core will boost your paddling skills and improve your strength and mobility for other daily functions.

Core Exercises For Paddling

There are some exercises that you can do on the boat or in the gym to enhance your core strength.

Torso Rotations

While you’re paddling, you can bring attention to your torso by keeping your arms straight. Begin by holding the paddle in front of you with both hands. Put one end of the paddle in the water and draw it back by rotating your body. Don’t bend your elbows or use your arms to pull. You should feel the muscles in your torso working to move the vessel.

Russian Twists

When you’re not in the water, you can do Russian twists to keep your core conditioned. Sit with your back straight and your knees bent. Keep your feet on the floor, or raise them so that they’re hovering parallel to the ground. Hold a dumbbell or medicine ball in both hands, and rotate your torso from side to side.

Man doing a plank

Let’s talk about the benefits of paddling for your upper body. Kayaking works your back, chest, shoulders, biceps and forearms.

A regular paddle stroke works similar muscles as a dumbbell row. While one arm pulls back, the lats engage. The muscles at the rear of the other arm are stretched as it reaches forward. Your pecs also work hard as you’re pushing one hand forward. This is similar to doing a push-up.

The circular motion that you use while paddling transfers energy from the back to the top and front of the shoulders. The work done by the biceps and triceps is a byproduct of this motion. You can change the muscles that are involved by widening or narrowing your grip on the paddle.

Many people overlook their forearm and grip strength when they’re working out. These muscles are essential for paddling, however. Conditioning them can improve your endurance and prevent fatigue.

Tricep dips explains that you can do several arm exercises to prepare for kayaking and canoeing. These include:

  • Tricep pushdowns and dips
  • Bicep curls

NRS offers an illustrated PDF of exercises that work the rotator cuffs. Doing these can improve your range of motion and prevent injury.

Strengthen The Legs

Although you can’t really see what’s going on inside the boat, the most effective kayakers make leg movements similar to a runner, according to Men’s Journal. The legs and hips have some of the largest muscles in the body, making them a significant source of power.

Paddling in a narrow boat through whitewater engages your legs even more than kayaking on flatwater.

Aerobic Exercise

As relaxing as paddling can be, it’s a wonderful aerobic exercise. Huffington Post reports that kayaking can burn about 350 calories per hour, depending on how hard you work. Men’s Journal has named kayaking one of the best exercises for heart health.

Jumping jacks

Aerobic exercise benefits your health in many ways, according to the Mayo Clinic. These advantages include:

  • Increased oxygen in the blood
  • Waste is carried out of the body more quickly
  • Endorphins, natural mood boosters, are released
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Increase “good” cholesterol and decrease “bad” cholesterol
  • Enhanced longevity

Furthermore, physical activity can be used as preventative therapy for many diseases. You don’t have to work out at your maximum capacity to achieve health benefits. About 60 minutes of light to moderate exercise every day can be enough to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

When you paddle, you can adjust the level of activity from moment to moment. You can paddle hard and fast to do sprints, raising your heart and respiration rate. Alternatively, you can relax and sustain an easeful momentum.

You have to keep moving in some capacity to steer your kayak and keep it on the right track. Your core muscles will continue to fire while you’re paddling at a leisurely pace.

Reduces Stress On The Joints

Paddling is a low-impact activity that can be advantageous for your joints. The Arthritis Broadcast Network says that paddling is less likely than many other activities to produce wear and tear on the joints. The smooth strokes used in paddling minimize shock compared to activities like running and walking.

However, the repetitive motion used while paddling can pose a problem for some people. To minimize pain and injury, follow these practices:

  • Stretch before paddling
  • Use the right paddle for your physique
  • Learn the proper technique
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Use ice or anti-inflammatory medication during and after a paddling session
  • Lift from the legs when transporting heavy equipment

If you experience pain or tightness in your hips, lower back or hamstring, you might want to try these pelvis stretches described by Canoe & Kayak before you head out on the water.

Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise says that exercise is one of the best ways to keep up your mental health. This sense of well-being is also one of the factors that keep you exercising. When exercise is fun and feels good, you’re more likely to do it.

Exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Stress
  • PTSD

Studies show that exercise can be as effective as medication for treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It usually comes with fewer side effects than prescriptions, too.

One of the reasons that paddling can improve your mental health is that it encourages your body to release feel-good chemicals. As dopamine, endorphins, norepinephrine and serotonin flood your brain, you experience increased energy, an influx of positive thinking, increased self-confidence and reduced levels of stress hormones. Exercise can also improve brain function, helping you focus.

Being Outside Enhances Your Health

You can always do strength training and cardio exercises in the comfort of your own home or a gym. However, researchers have consistently found that getting outdoors improves physical and mental health.

Lake in deep forest

ACE Fitness references some studies that have found that moving your body outside reduces depression and anger. It also improves confidence, especially if you exercise in water or near greenery.

There are numerous benefits to connecting with nature. Beyond the more obvious advantages, such as enjoying the beauty of your surroundings, you’re exposed to more microbes when you’re outside vs. in a hygienic indoor environment. The microscopic creatures that you encounter in nature influence your mood, energy levels and cognitive function.

The aromas and chemical elements that you inhale while you’re outdoors can improve your health. In one study, researchers noticed that participants’ blood sugar levels decreased when they participated in shinrin-yoku, walking through a wooded environment while breathing deeply and opening all of your senses.

The practice of shinrin-yoku is also purported to:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Improve immunity
  • Hasten recovery from illness or surgery
  • Improve sleep
  • Enhance interpersonal connections
  • Improve intuition
  • Increase your sense of happiness

You can paddle through forests, marine environments and other landscapes. The variety improves your observational skills, and being outdoors has restorative benefits.

One of my absolute favourite places to kayak is on the ocean – you feel so absorbed, so small, and you can also find great secluded beaches.

Paddling Can Improve Your Self-Esteem

Paddling inherently puts you in the path of obstacles. You don’t just get physical activity; as you learn to maneuver your boat, you improve your skills. This challenge allows you to set goals and surpass them.

Perhaps you can try paddling faster or for a longer period of time whenever you go out on the water. You might test out different paddling techniques to improve your stroke efficiency. As you make improvements, you deepen your sense of achievement.

Kayaking And Canoeing Provide Meditation Benefits

Paddling harnesses the power of meditation. As you focus on moving the paddle and following a rhythm, your mind can let go of chatter and intrusive thoughts. You might find that you zone out as you move over the water. You may become hyper-aware of your surroundings, tuning into the sounds of nature that you don’t usually notice.


This practice can enhance your sense of connectedness with the universe. Although that concept may sound ethereal, it has scientific backing. Study results show that people who feel more connected to nature tend to be happier.

Demographics and personality characteristics don’t define you when you’re out in nature. Anyone can benefit from spending time outdoors.

It’s no surprise that many meditation retreats are located in areas of splendid natural beauty. Just do an internet search for “meditation retreat,” and you’ll find that many incorporate paddling sports into their activities.

Get More Vitamin D

When you’re outdoors, your skin is exposed to UV rays, and your vitamin D levels are boosted. Vitamin D is needed for just about every bodily function, including the brain, heart, immune system and muscles.

The vitamin is converted to a hormone for use in the body. It has been found to play a large role in mood disorders, such as depression.

Woman sunbathing for vitamin D

Just 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight can significantly raise your vitamin D levels. The risk is that you can get a sunburn, especially if you’re out on open water without shade.

Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen to prevent skin damage from sun exposure. If you’ll be out for an extended period of time, you’ll still absorb plenty of UV rays to keep your vitamin D levels in full swing. Most people don’t slather on enough sunscreen to block all UV rays.


As you can see, kayaking health benefits are numerous. Paddling is a low-impact, aerobic activity that strengthens many muscles in the body and boosts heart health. It can improve balance, stability and mobility.

From a mental health standpoint, paddling reduces stress levels and improves your mood. Kayaking teaches us that strength and consistency pay off. It helps us become more patient with the natural flow of life and learn to observe what’s around us instead of living in our heads all the time. Floating on the water can change your perspective because it offers a view of the world that you’re not always exposed to.

If you want help choosing the best kayak for your needs, start with the homepage.