8 Mind-And-Body Health Benefits Of Kayaking: Is Kayaking Good Exercise & Why?

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Sam OBrien

I’ve always led an active lifestyle. However, I was never big on the latest fitness crazes, going to the gym, and repeating the same exercise routine.  And if you see me running, then you know something is on fire or I am being chased!

Water sports were always more my thing – and the great outdoors, my favorite fitness center. 

But is kayaking good exercise, though? 

Yes, something as simple as paddling can be highly beneficial for your body in more ways than you could imagine. 

Stick around; you’ll see what I mean! 

Why Is Kayaking Good For You? 8 Reasons To Give Kayaking A Try 

Two Kayakers Carrying Boat

Benefit #1: Kayaking Puts Your Whole Body – Yes, Whole – To Work 

Kayaking is often labeled as a leisurely activity, rather than proper exercise; best-case scenario, you’ll hear people referring to it as an exclusively upper-body workout. 

It’s a common misconception – and a ridiculous one, at that. 

Grabbing hold of a paddle and executing even the most basic forward stroke will incorporate nearly every muscle in your upper body. 

The Proper Kayak Forward Stroke for All Kayakers

The impacts of a paddling session don’t stop at the upper portion of your body, though. 

Sure, the focus is mostly on the back muscles, shoulders, arms, and core; these are the muscle groups that take care of all the movement. However, proper paddling technique puts the entire body to work – even your legs and glutes!  

Also, if you get bored with fitness routines easily, kayaking could be the perfect full-body workout for you: 

No matter how often you hit the water, no two paddling sessions will ever be the same.

Benefit #2: It’s Low-Impact & Easy On The Joints 

senior paddler in life jacket with a whitewater inflatable kayak -

Paddling makes for an excellent low-impact activity that can improve your aerobic fitness, strength, and slim you down by burning calories, develop your core, while remaining easy on the joints: 

You get to achieve your fitness goals without the excessive wear and tear that often accompanies other forms of exercise, such as running. 

If you’re looking to minimize the impact on the joints in your lower body, primarily legs; hips and knees, go with a paddle. Alternatively, if you hope to spare your elbows and shoulders the unnecessary strain, a pedal-drive kayak is always an option. 

Either way, kayaking has many benefits; it is a highly adaptable, inclusive, and versatile outdoor activity for pretty much anyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions or injuries, age, or current fitness level.  For this reason kayaking can be an excellent exercise for pregnant women – but you should always check with you doctor or healthcare provider first.

Benefit #3: Paddle The Excess Weight Away 

Kayak helps with weight loss

If you ever wondered can you lose weight by kayaking, the answer is a loud, definite yes. Heart-pumping physical activity is bound to burn some calories – and, combined with an adequate diet, ultimately leads to weight loss

The calories you burn depend on several factors, including age, gender, size, and body type. However, you can burn an upward of 400 calories kayaking, as long as you put in the effort.

Compared to other intense forms of exercise, such as swimming or running, the per-hour rate doesn’t sound that impressive. However, the duration of an average paddling session more than makes up for that difference and amounts to more calories burned. 

And remember weight loss isn’t all about cardio. Kayaking will help improve muscle mass and develop strength.  The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

Benefit #4: Kayaking Counts As Cardio & Helps You Build Muscles 

Man and woman showing muscles wearing sports tops

Don’t assume that low-impact equals low-intensity – because kayaking is anything but. 

First, you’ll see it in your back, namely your lats muscles. Then, you’ll notice some big improvements in your shoulders and arms muscles – both in terms of muscle mass and strength Also, don’t be too surprised to see the first signs of a well-defined six-pack soon after taking up kayaking. 

All the while, your heart is getting a workout, too, which contributes to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease

So, it’s entirely possible to paddle your way to a better-looking, healthier body – but only if you do it right. Floating down the river with the paddle sitting in your lap won’t make much of a difference. 

If you want kayaking to count as exercise, you have to treat it as at a workout and pick up the pace. 

Benefit #5: You Get The Much-Needed “Sunshine Vitamin” 

Shine rays shining through trees

Hopping into your kayak and spending time outdoors comes with another outstanding health benefit: 

Increasing vitamin D levels in your body. 

Vitamin D deficiency is a global problem linked with diabetes, obesity, hypertension, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, and neurodegenerative diseases. Still, it remains widely overlooked. 

It’s almost impossible to get vitamin D from food alone – at least not in optimal doses – but our bodies can synthesize this essential vitamin when exposed to the sun’s UV rays. More than 50% – and up to 90% – of the “sunshine vitamin” comes from, well, sun exposure. 

Your body can produce vitamin D within 15 to 20 minutes in the sun, though, so keep the exposure reasonable. 

Waterproof sunscreen is still a must after the initial 15 or so minutes. 

Benefit #6: A Chance For Bonding Over Common Interests 

Kayakers having snack on their boat

The 2019 Special Report on Paddlesports & Safety noted that, in the US alone, over 22 million people took the lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans to take part in paddling activities. 

If you ever wondered how popular of an outdoor activity kayaking is, there’s your answer. 

Don’t forget that humans are social animals by nature and take the time to look into the paddling clubs in your area. 

Local paddling clubs could turn out to be the source of much-needed social interactions for you. You’ll get a chance to meet others who share your interests and make new friends – all while getting fit. 

Benefit #7: More Time Paddling, Less Time Stressing 

stress free zone sign

Modern-day life makes it incredibly hard – or flat-out impossible – to avoid stress. And sure, our bodies are equipped to handle stress in small doses. 

However, long-term, chronic stress leaves no part of the body immune

Besides affecting your mood and emotional wellbeing, chronic stress can have a real, physical impact on your body, including cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, and obesity. 

Some may opt for a gym session as a way to de-stress, but kayaking can be an effective strategy for stress management. 

Instead of loud music, crowds, and constant clanking of exercise and workout equipment, you enjoy the soothing sounds of water and surrounding nature and breathe in the fresh air.

Benefit #8: Big Emotional & Mental Health Boosts (Besides Stress Relief)

A sign saying mental health this way on beach

The benefits of physical activity is that any aerobic exercise will trigger the release of mood-improving chemicals in the brain, including endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. 

But beyond that, I always found that the rhythmic nature of paddling, along with the mellowing sounds of water, puts me in a meditative state and helps me clear my mind. Out on a kayak session, I can put things into perspective and approach the next day with focus and determination. 

What’s more, kayaking will do wonders for your self-image and confidence levels

It could be improving your technique and stroke efficiency, tackling a class IV whitewater rapid, increasing speed and distance of your paddling sessions, or observing the changes in your body and fitness levels. 

Either way, kayaking can make a real difference in how you perceive yourself.  

The sun might be able to give your vitamin D, but time in a kayak will give you some vitamin ‘me’

Final Thoughts: Is Kayaking Good Exercise? 

The health benefits of kayaking are undeniable.  It works your arms, shoulder, back, core and chest muscles as you propel the kayak forward and fight water resistance with each stroke. It works your heart and boosts your cardiovascular endurance through the fast-paced movements. Best of all, it works your mind in more ways than one.  

So, if you came here wondering is kayaking good exercise, I hope this settles it. 

Burning calories and shedding pounds, increasing lean muscle mass whilst developing strength, improving cardiovascular health, and helping you de-stress; these are only a few reasons to consider taking up kayaking. 

If you’re new to paddling or lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle, though, ease into it. As beneficial as kayaking is, exceeding your physical limits almost always does more harm than good. And, if you have any medical conditions alway consult with your physician before commencing any new exercise or workout program.

Have fun – but stay safe doing it!

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Sam OBrien

As the founder of one of the top-ranking websites in its niche, WaterSportsWhiz.com, Sam has dedicated himself to educating people on water-based activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and diving. When he's not busy writing about water sports or testing out the latest gear, Sam can be found enjoying a good surf or kayak session with friends.