The Health Benefits of Paddling

The health benefits of kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding

There is a lot more to get from paddling than a tan. The benefits of paddling for your physical and mental wellbeing go far beyond skin deep. I’m talking about a healthier, richer, and fuller life, as you bask in the benefits of being out in the great outdoors and engaging in exciting exercise.

So, if you’ve never tried kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddleboarding (SUP) before, here are 12 incredible health benefits to pick up a paddle. Let’s get right to it.

#1 Fun Workout

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of jogging, and I never got the point of repeatedly lifting pieces of metal. But thankfully, I can get my cardio and strength training from paddling… a workout that is actually fun.

Many kayakers jump in their boat to unwind on the water, without really realizing the positive effect paddling has on their fitness, muscle development, and flexibility. But as you’ll see below, paddling can be a serious workout that builds lean muscle and torches calories.

The best part is that anybody, at any age, and at any fitness level, can get into paddling. It’s relatively easy for beginners to get started in this fun sport. And with the many different forms of kayaking and paddleboarding (racing, touring, recreational, fishing, camping trips), there’s also something to capture everyone’s interest.

You can also push yourself as hard as you want. Some people are strictly recreational kayakers, while others like to clock up some serious k’s, or even compete in racing events.

Whatever reason you get started in paddling, there's no denying it's a fun way to get fit:

#2 Burn Calories Burn!

Burning calories, i.e. weight loss, is a primary goal of many gym rats. Here’s an idea: instead of churning wheels in a stuffy gym, get out where the air is fresh, and b.o. is non-existent.

Calorie burn depends on the weight of the kayaker, the intensity of paddling (influenced by currents, wind, technique), and the duration.

Here are the stats on various paddling scenarios:

When kayaking, you can burn about 300 calories per hour, that’s if you weigh 120 lbs (8 stones). For a weight class around 180 lbs (15 stones), you burn about 450 calories.

If you weigh between 9–11 stones (126–154 lbs), you can burn between 177–708 calories per hour when canoeing - it depends on how fast you’re going, of course.

This is way more than you would lose running, cycling or skipping, according to the researchers at Cosmopolitan.

If you weigh between 13–15 stones (182–210 lbs), you can burn anything from 245 calories an hour to a whopping 1,117 calories.

Independent research by supworldmag done on a group of SUP paddlers weighing between 165–200 pounds (12–14 stones), showed that a leisurely paddle could burn between 305–430 calories.

At the more intensive end of the spectrum (racers), the burn rate is 713–1,125 calories per hour.

Yes, there are other sports and exercises that torch calories at a higher rate than kayaking or paddleboarding. Boxing, for example, burns more calories than just about any other sport. But frankly, I’d rather be fighting the current than being punched in the face.

#3 Bond with Nature

Bond with nature through kayaking

The vast majority of us spend way too much time indoors. We work in offices, exercise in gyms, and then head back to the comfort of our home, barely stepping foot outside apart from the brief walk to the car.

This isn’t a healthy way to be. Studies have shown that the amount of time we spend outdoors has a direct link to our happiness.

The great thing about kayaking, or any other outdoors sport, is that it reestablishes that connection with our natural environment. It rekindles that sense of wonder and euphoria, lifts our mood, and has a calming effect that T.V., Netflix, gaming, or any other forms of indoor entertainment simply can’t provide.

Make an effort to spend a little more time outside each day. When the weekend comes, grab your boat and spend an afternoon on the water. You’ll soon unwind, and feel an enormous sense of wellbeing that stays with you, even when you’re back at the grindstone.

#4 Mental Health, Mental Wealth

Being around water has always had a calming effect on me, which is why I’m an advocate for water sports in general. But it turns out that the relaxation also helps your mind.

Paddling has been proven to combat depression, reduce stress, and lower anxiety in numerous studies:

· The Journal of Leisurability published research carried out on a group of people enrolled in a 12-week kayaking program. The participants reported an increase in self-confidence, self-worth, and a better perception of their physical appearance.

· Kayaking has been introduced as part of a mental rehabilitation program designed by world-class institutions, including Western Tennessee University and Walter Reed Army Medical Centre.

Without going too deep, just know that kayaking releases chemicals in the brain that elevate your mood.

#5 Exhilarating Aerobic Exercise

STOP! You don’t have to kill yourself with CrossFit. Paddling is just as an effective aerobic workout that yields all the benefits of this type of training.

Speaking of benefits, the Cleveland Clinic lists some of the perks of aerobic exercise as improved heart health, increased endurance, lower blood pressure, better management of cholesterol levels, stronger lungs, and blood sugar control.

Also, research from Manchester Metropolitan University showed that canoeists have superior heart strength. Their blood is pumped around the body more easily and their heart stays healthier for longer.

Not bad for playing around on the water, I’m sure you’ll agree. So, give your cardiovascular system a workout, destress, and build a fitter, healthier and leaner body, with an enjoyable paddle workout.

#6 Good for the Joints

Low impact exercise reduces the forceful contact (impact) the body has with the ground. Unlike running, jumping, and contact sports, paddling has a positive influence on your joints - it’s good for suppleness of the joints and overall mobility.

If you are or have struggled with your weight – as I have – you’d know how hard jogging can be on the knees when you’re carrying a little bit more than you should. The thought alone can be discouraging.

But when the exercise you’re doing doesn’t cause aching joints or lead to the breakdown of cartilage, it’s very encouraging.

Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is a common problem for joggers, athletes, tennis players, and dancers, but it's not a problem for paddlers!

#7 Build Strength and Athletic Muscle

We’ve already covered the benefit of paddling on the most important muscle – the heart, but that’s not all. Paddling builds lean, athletic, and highly functional muscle and none of the bulky stuff you get from weightlifting that just gets in the way and slows you down.

The effects are most visible in the upper body. Paddling works the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, stomach, and chest.

However, your leg muscles are also used when balancing on a paddleboard, or with pushing off with powerful strokes when kayaking.

Both kayaking and paddle boarding engage the whole body and result in a strong and toned figure, with a good strength to weight ratio.

#8 Great for the Core

Proper paddling technique actually utilizes the muscles of the back and abdominals just as much, if not more than, the arms. Many sports and workout programs neglect core conditioning, whereas in paddling, it’s activated most of the time.

When you SUP, your core is involved in strokes and maintaining balance. When you’re in a kayak or canoe, a strong core will make balancing easy and make you a fast and powerful paddler.

It’s totally possible to get ripped six pack abs from paddling without ever having to do a single sit-up. Hooray!

#9 Get Your Balance Back

SUP Yoga

Try SUP yoga if you really want to improve your balance

No, we’re not talking about work-life balance, although taking up paddling as a hobby could certainly help with that. We’re talking about having tight control over your fine motor skills and balance.

We seldom get the opportunity to develop our balance, and as a result, many of us find it difficult even to stand on one leg. Paddling, especially stand up paddle boarding, will help you find your balance again.

Improving balance may not be high on your priorities list, but it will help with paddling as well as lift your game in any other sports you play, and will even make your everyday movements more flowing and elegant.

#10 Get Your Vitamin D Quota

We know hiding indoors is bad for us, particularly as many of us spend our time inside slumped in front of the TV, but it’s comfortable and requires little effort, so therefore becomes the norm.

Getting active and spending time outdoors takes more effort, but it is much more rewarding, plus, sunlight on the skin helps our bodies to produce that much-needed vitamin D. Those little rays of sunshine not only feel good to bask in, but also play a critical part in our physical and mental health. Sun exposure helps to improve our mood, lower cholesterol, fight some skin disorders, and build our immune system.

On the other hand, too much sun can be harmful. If you are going to be spending all day on the water, make sure you slather on sunscreen to your exposed areas.

#11 Get Social

Paddlers are a friendly bunch. They’ll often be found paddling in pairs or groups as it follows safe paddling practices, and also because it’s way more fun to paddle with friends.

If you’re short of paddling buddies, I would suggest joining a kayak or SUP club. Paddling clubs are never hard to find, and many cities have clubs that are an offshoot of their local outdoors club.

You’ll make lots of friends as you take part in lessons, and there’ll be plenty of invites to club days out and camping trips. You may even get to participate in fundraisers and river clean-up events with the club, which are a fantastic way of promoting good outdoor ethics and giving back to the community.

On the flip side, paddling can also be a great way to escape the crowds. Solitude can be good for the mind, giving us time to gather our thoughts and gain clarity. But just make sure you’re an experienced paddler and know an area well before taking to the water yourself.

#12 Personal Growth through Skill Development

Personal growth through paddling

Become a bigger, better, stronger version of yourself with each paddling challenge you conquer

Being able to handle a small boat or maneuver a paddle board is a skill. No one is born knowing how to paddle, and the skills and knowledge needed to do so safely and efficiently have to be learned.

Learning these skills provides and an enormous sense of achievement, self-worth, and satisfaction. The fact that you put yourself out there, embraced the uncomfortable, and ended up being proficient in a new skill, shows a lot about your character.

Becoming a skilled paddler may seem insignificant, but putting yourself through the small “tests” of life is how you grow into a bigger and better version of yourself that’s able to conquer much more than you previously believed possible.

And there’s always an opportunity to challenge yourself through any of the disciplines. SUP racing events give you a chance to see how you stack up against the competition, while whitewater kayaking allows you challenge Mother Nature head on.

There will come a time when you look back on those first few awkward strokes and laugh, as you realize how far you’ve come.


To be completely honest, paddling can take a little more effort than other sports or workout routines. It requires specialist equipment and training to get started, and then you have to haul your boat to the water and prepare for the weather every time you go out.

However, the health benefits of canoeing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding far outweigh any perceived negatives. Spending just an hour or two on the water is so HUGELY beneficial, that if you manage to get out just once a week, it will have a positive impact on your life.

For building a strong and healthy body, cultivating a positive mind, and just generally looking after your wellbeing, you can’t go wrong with paddling.

Enough reading, it’s time to hit the water.

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