10 Surprising Benefits of Kayaking That Make You Healthier (and Happier)

Kayak near Mount Fuji – Best health benefits of kayaking

Introduction to Kayaking

Before we get into it, we have to ask ourselves what is kayaking? Kayaking is a water sport that involves a double-blade oar to paddle a kayak which is a small boat. There are many different kayaks such as sit-on-top kayaks, recreational kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and more!

Ken and Jules from Outdoormagnet, a blogging couple currently living in Southeast Asia, will give you an introduction and share with you some great canoeing tips and all the undeniable health benefits of kayaking you can expect to reap when practicing this watersport.

Most kayaks can hold one person, but depending on the design, some kayaks can hold more than the usual one. Kayaking in any waters is okay, keep in mind that you should follow your pace and not push yourself too much.

As a beginner, try not to go to the extremes of the waters like rivers, sea, or any harsh current waters, instead you should stick to flat and calm waters and learn the basics from reading and practicing. The foundation is important just like any other sport which can be a lifesaver someday.

Once you become an expert, you can start to explore different kinds of water whether it’s rough seas or fast rivers. You can even take part in kayaking competitions too! Remember to put your safety above fun, because if your safety is harmed, there is no fun at all. 

For beginners, these are the gear you want to bring for the trip.

  • Kayak
  • 2 paddles, one as a spare
  • Floatation device
  • Waterproof bag
  • Sprayskirt
  • Headlamp with batteries
  • Whistle

Some extra gears for longer and challenging sessions 

  • Towline
  • Paddle float
  • Paddling knife
  • GPS and Map
  • Compass
  • Float bags
  • Two-way radio

Health Benefits of Kayaking

Now with all of the basics of kayaking done, let’s start with the health benefits of kayaking.

1. Helps you to achieve a healthy weight

Kayaking is a great exercise to shed some weight if you need to. A single kayaking session of 1 hour at 5 km/h can help to burn about 500 calories. Although you may say that it’s not that much more calories burnt than running on a treadmill, kayaking is much more fun than just running on a piece of equipment for 30 minutes. 

For many people, they don’t just go kayaking for a short 30 minutes and call it a day. Instead, they would go for a long session like more than an hour, or even spend the whole afternoon kayaking. That means you can burn more than 1600 calories per session. If you need to find a great workout to lose some weight, kayaking is sure to be on your list.

2. Increases upper body strength

When you kayak, you use a lot of your arms to move around. As you are kayaking for a long time, you can start to build up the muscles in the arms. The exertion of muscles you use to paddle extends to most of the upper body muscles such as the back, shoulders, and chest too. 

As the arms and back muscles are being toned, the grip and forearms are tested by handling and paddling the kayak. Just like high-rep pull-ups, the hands will fatigue and your forearms will be tested.

To put this into another perspective, when kayaking for about 1 km, you would probably need about 500 strokes depending on several factors. Just by going for a 2 km trip, you would need about 1000 strokes. This improves the upper body strength. 

3. Strengthens the core muscles

The core muscles, which are the abdomen, obliques, and lower backs are engaged when kayaking. As you perform every single stroke, you stretch forward contracting the abs, and when you pull back, the lower back muscles contract. 

When you twist and turn your body from left to right, it will engage the obliques giving your core muscles a great exercise. Although many core exercises are much more effective, it is still good to try out kayaking as it can keep the core muscles engaged throughout the session. 

4. Develops toned legs


Although kayaking focuses on the upper body and the arms, it isn’t only limited to those muscles. Leg muscles are also used while kayaking and in fact, the movements involved with kayaking are just as impactful as the upper body muscles. 

While you kayak, you need the legs to apply pressure inside the kayak to balance it. Also as you try to turn or maneuver the kayak, you may unwillingly tighten and loosen the leg muscles countless times and thus you train the leg muscles.

5. Increases your stamina and endurance levels

Just like jogging, running, swimming, surfing, or any kind of endurance sport, kayaking is a good workout for endurance building. Because kayaking is done for hours, it allows the body to get used to long sessions and thus build your stamina and endurance. 

Kayaking doesn’t have to be very intense for stamina building (although you can do that), just going on 3 sessions per week can help to increase energy levels by 20%. Remember to take it step by step if you’re new to kayaking as pushing yourself may not be effective, but also can harm the body. 

6. Improves heart conditions

Kayaking is an aerobic sport, which is also known as cardiac exercise or heart exercise. Cardiac exercise strengthens the heart muscles and improves the pumping efficiency of the heart. It also helps improve blood flow throughout the body and increases the red blood cell count. 

Kayaking achieves this by increasing the heart rate to a healthy level. As you perform the activity regularly and consistently, you will also exercise the heart muscles, making them stronger and healthier. 

7. Reduces stress in the body

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension and one of the best ways to reduce stress is to spend time outdoors and get some fresh air. While stress is a huge factor in maintaining mental fitness, it is also accompanied by different illnesses that can worsen any existing medical conditions you may have. 

Stress can affect your mental performance. Stress causes the brain to release specific chemicals in the body which can affect feelings. In addition to worsening other symptoms, stress can make you feel anxious, depressed, or irritated. It is also responsible for reducing the ability to concentrate, make decisions and can even make you forgetful.

Hence, one of the main goals of keeping healthy physically and mentally is to reduce stress. Luckily, kayaking is a great way to reduce stress while enjoying the environment and providing physical exercise throughout the journey. 

8. Increase happiness

Happiness is the best medicine, a fact that can’t be denied. On the other hand, we all know a great way to increase happiness is by immersing yourself in nature. Hence, kayaking is an ideal activity if you want to be at your happiest while spending time outdoors.

Other than nature affecting your mood, aerobic exercises such as kayaking increase the release of specific chemicals in the body, for example, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain. 

These neurotransmitters, especially endorphins, help improve one’s mood, making one feel happier and can boost people’s confidence. Due to that, kayaking and exercising, in general, are recommended by health experts to reduce stress. In short, it is a sport that helps to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Try clear bottom kayaks, depending on how clear the waters are you may enjoy watching the fishes and the ecosystem underwater.

9. Helps to increase and activate vitamin D

When we mention vitamin D, most of us would think of being under the sun or food. Both of these are true, but in fact, getting vitamin D from foods is harder to get than being under the sun. Our body itself contains inactive forms of vitamin D. However, for it to show its effects in the body, we need to expose ourselves to sunlight.

Other vitamins have drawbacks when consuming too much of them. For example, too much vitamin C or zinc can cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. But vitamin D doesn’t have any drawbacks or bad side effects. Vitamin D is needed to strengthen bones, helps boost the immune system, aids in support of the development of the brain, supports muscle function, and keeps the heart healthy. 

With all that said, it’s still best to get some sunlight through kayaking or exercising outdoors.

10. Improves sleep

If you regularly toss and turn at night, it should mean that you don’t sleep well, picking up kayaking may help improve your symptoms as well as promote a good night’s sleep. As you exercise during the day, the body will consume energy and you will feel tired naturally, which helps you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly through the night. 

Overall, you will feel better sleeping and would be more likely to go for another session of kayaking again, or even longer. 

In conclusion, kayaking as traditional transportation is great for everyone, it is very enjoyable and I can say that many people would love it. It is great to engage nature from the waters and possibly spot some wildlife. 

Kayaking is a great workout for those who like sports and can engage the whole body. It is also beneficial all around from head to toe. That’s about all, if you are going on a vacation, do try to go for a kayak ride.

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