If like me, these high temperatures have you fantasizing about days by the lake and beach getaways. Nothing beats basking in the sun, sipping on an agua fresca, and partaking in summer activities like paddle boarding on the river—or if you’re feeling daring, trying out surfing for the first time, right?
Speaking of which, one water activity we recommend is kayaking. Not only is it the ultimate way to unwind, but it’s also an excellent form of exercise. (Don’t own a kayak? Consider the Oru Lake kayak, known for being lightweight and foldable.)
Below, certified personal trainers delve deeper into why kayaking should be on your summer to-do list (and how to stay safe while doing it).
How kayaking can benefit your body
Kayaking enhances your heart health and overall fitness
Firstly, kayaking is an excellent choice for adding some cardio into your routine. “Kayaking is an effective cardiovascular workout, which helps in maintaining a healthy heart,” says Josh York, CPT, founder and CEO of GYMGUYZ.
Furthermore, cardio workouts can also contribute to the improvement of skin, digestion, joints, muscles, lungs, immune system, sleep quality, and more, as stated by the Cleveland Clinic.
It targets the muscles in your arms, core, and upper back
While kayaking offers a great workout for anyone interested and physically capable, it’s “particularly beneficial for those aiming to strengthen their arms, core, and upper back muscles,” notes Jesse Feder, a CPT with My Crohn’s and Colitis Team. “Kayaking entails utilizing your upper body and core muscles to propel against water resistance with the paddles, which makes it an exceptional workout.” He adds that individuals who spend long hours hunched over a desk might find this particularly valuable.
Additionally, kayaking differs from some other common group activities. “[Kayaking] puts minimal stress on the joints, unlike other social activities such as hiking, volleyball, or dancing,” York mentions.
It contributes to the strength of your joints, muscles, and bones
Kayaking is also beneficial for older individuals or those with joint or muscle issues since it helps in building muscle and bone density, according to Mike Julom, an ACE-certified personal trainer, CrossFit athlete, and founder of ThisIsWhyImFit.com. “It’s akin to weight lifting, except instead of a dumbbell, you are exerting force with your paddle against the resistance of the water,” he explains. “[This can] help counteract the natural decline in bone density that occurs with age.”
It can be varied
Any workout can become monotonous if you don’t introduce some variety. That’s why York appreciates the adaptability of kayaking. If you want to intensify your workout, experiment with the rhythm of your strokes, or if you are experienced enough, consider kayaking in a swifter current, or a meandering river instead of an open lake—something that requires different maneuvering. There are also single and two-person kayaks that can modify the dynamics of your workout, based on your preference.
The mental benefits of kayaking
It elevates the levels of feel-good hormones
Kayaking, as a form of physical activity, raises dopamine and serotonin levels, hormones that reduce stress, stimulate feelings of happiness, and have other positive effects.
It occurs in outdoor settings, which can alleviate stress and uplift mood
Being an outdoor workout, it encompasses all these benefits. Both Feder and York highlight the serene and therapeutic nature of both natural surroundings and fresh air.
Julom expounds on this, pointing out how the rhythmic movement of paddling, the sound of water, and the sensation of gliding across the surface can be calming. “This is an example of what psychologists refer to as the ‘blue space’ effect, where proximity to water can lead to reduced levels of stress and anxiety,” he remarks.
It can foster an increase in confidence
For those new to kayaking—or even those who are not—practice can be a confidence booster. “Overcoming challenges, such as mastering steering or tackling more demanding water conditions, can lead to a sense of accomplishment and boost self-esteem,” adds Julom.
Quick tips on potential risks before embarking on kayaking adventures
Possibility of kayak capsizing
While kayaking is a fun form of exercise, it is not without risks. First of all, the risk of capsizing. Julom stresses the importance of wearing a life jacket, irrespective of swimming ability. “Additionally, learning and practicing how to upright a capsized kayak can be a lifesaver,” he advises.
From a safety perspective, be cautious about where and when you engage in kayaking. York recommends conducting research on the body of water to ensure it’s safe. Some factors to consider include:
- Finding a calm, shallow spot in the water
- Wearing a helmet (as well as a life jacket)
- Carrying a whistle, flashlight, spare paddle, and navigation equipment
- Kayaking with a companion
- Avoiding the activity in stormy or windy weather
Along similar lines, Julom advises being mindful of exposure to the elements. “Sunburn, dehydration, and hypothermia can all be concerns while kayaking, depending on weather conditions,” he warns. To mitigate these risks, he suggests wearing sunscreen, bringing an ample water supply, and dressing appropriately for the weather.
Risk of overexertion or muscle strain
Paying attention to your body is critical. “Similar to any activity, overuse injuries can result from doing too much too soon,” Feder cautions. “While kayaking is beneficial for the body and muscles, it’s important to ease into the activity and build up strength/endurance.”
Julom underscores the importance of the correct paddling technique. “Engaging your core muscles to drive your stroke, rather than solely relying on your arms, can help distribute the effort and minimize strain,” he suggests. Additionally, he encourages warming up and cooling down to prevent muscle strains and injuries.
Furthermore, the frequency and duration of your kayaking sessions also matter. Julom suggests beginners stick to 20 to 30-minute sessions, one to two times weekly. As they become more comfortable, they can increase to one to two-hour sessions, up to three times a week. He explains that this frequency allows individuals to gain the benefits of kayaking without compromising the necessary recovery time for their bodies.
Consistency is crucial. “I would recommend kayaking with the same frequency as other forms of exercise,” York adds.
As evident, there’s a lot to consider in terms of water safety. However, the multitude of mental and physical advantages of kayaking—along with the sheer enjoyment it offers—make it a potentially favored form of summer exercise.