Speaking of which, a popular on-water activity we suggest: kayak. Not only is it the ultimate way to unwind, but it’s also a great way to get moving. (You don’t have a kayak? We recommend Lake Oru Kayakingwhich is lightweight and foldable.)
Below, certified personal trainers explain why kayaking is the thing to do this summer (and how to stay safe while doing it).
How your body benefits from kayaking
Kayaking improves your heart health and overall health
For starters, kayaking is a great choice if you want another way to incorporate cardio into your routine. “Kayaking is a good cardiovascular workout, so it keeps your heart healthy,” says Josh YorkCPT, founder and CEO of GYMGUYZ.
More, cardio workouts can also benefit your skin, your digestion, your joints, your muscles, your lungs, your immune system, the quality of your sleep, etc., according to the Cleveland Clinic.
It works the muscles of the arms, core and upper back
While kayaking can be a great workout for anyone who feels capable and interested, it’s “especially good for anyone looking to strengthen their arms, core and upper back muscles,” says Jesse Federa CPT with My Crohn’s and Colitis Team. “Kayaking involves using your upper body and core muscles to pull against water resistance with the paddles, which makes it such a great workout.” He adds that working people who slouch at a desk all day may especially want to work those muscles.
Also, kayaking is different from some other common types of exercise that you can do with a few friends. “(Kayaking) doesn’t put too much strain on the joints, unlike other social activities like hiking, volleyball, or dancing,” York says.
It helps your joints, muscles and bones stay strong
The kayak is also ideal for the elderly or those with joint or muscle problems. This is because it builds muscle and bone density, according to mike julomACE Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Athlete and Founder of That’sWhyImFit.com. “It’s like lifting weights, but instead of a dumbbell, you lift your paddle against the resistance of the water,” he explains. “(It may) help combat the natural decline in bone density that occurs with age.”
It can be switched
Any workout can get boring if you don’t change things up a bit. That’s why York loves kayak customization. If you want to take it up a notch, play around with the rhythm of your strokes, or if you’re seasoned enough, consider kayaking in a faster current or meandering river instead of an open lake, which forces you to operate in another way. There are also one-person and two-person kayaks that will change the dynamics of your workout, depending on what you choose.
How kayaking is good for the mind
It increases feel-good hormones
As a form of movement, kayaking increases dopamine and serotoninwhich are hormones that decrease stress, lead to feelings of happiness, and have other positive effects.
It’s done outdoors, which can reduce stress and improve mood
As a workout performed outdoors, it brings all of these benefits. Feder and York mention how peaceful and calming nature and fresh air are.
Julom explains this in more detail, explaining how soothing the rhythmic movement of paddling, the sound of water and the feeling of gliding across the surface can be. “This is an example of what psychologists call the ‘blue space’ effectwhere being near water can reduce stress and anxiety levels,” he says.
It can lead to higher levels of trust
If you’re new to kayaking, or even if you’re not, practice can also help you gain confidence. “Overcoming challenges, like learning to steer or tackling tougher water conditions, can lead to a sense of accomplishment and boost self-esteem,” adds Julom.
FYI, some risks to plan for before getting in the water
The kayak could capsize
Although kayaking is one of the most fun ways to exercise, it is not without its risks. First, the possibility of capsizing. Julom says wearing a life jacket is crucial, regardless of your swimming ability. “Plus, learning and practicing how to right a capsized kayak can be a lifesaver,” he says.
Elements can be dangerous
From a safety perspective, be careful where and when you kayak. York recommends researching the body of water to ensure it is safe. Some examples of information to check on include:
- Find a calm, shallow spot on the water
- Wear a helmet (with your life jacket)
- Bring a whistle, flashlight, extra paddle and boating gear
- Kayaking with a friend
- Skip the activity if the weather is stormy or windy
Along those lines, Julom recommends keeping your exposure to the elements in mind. “Sunburn, dehydration and hypothermia can all be problems in kayaking, depending on weather conditions,” he says. To avoid these risks, he continues, wear sunscreen, bring plenty of water and dress for the weather.
You could overwork yourself or strain a muscle
Listening to your body is essential. “As with any activity, overuse injuries can be a problem if you do too much too soon,” says Feder. “While kayaking is great for your body and muscles, it’s best to get into the activity and build your strength/endurance.”
Julom emphasizes the importance of good paddling technique. “Using your abdominal muscles to power your stroke, rather than just your arms, can help distribute the effort and reduce tension,” he says. Plus, it encourages warming up and cooling down to prevent muscle strain and injury.
Besides technique, the frequency and duration of your kayaking sessions also matters. Julom recommends beginners not go in the water for more than 20 to 30 minutes, once or twice a week. As they become more comfortable, he says, they can go up to one to two hours and up to three times a week. He explains that this frequency gives people the benefits of kayaking without sacrificing the time their body needs to recover.
Otherwise, consistency is key. “I would recommend someone to kayak with the same frequency as they would exercise in any other form,” adds York.
As you can see, there is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to water safety. At the same time, all the mental and physical benefits of kayaking, plus the sheer fun it can bring, means it may be your new favorite way to move this summer.