The Health Benefits of Kayaking

The Health Benefits of Kayaking

What comes to mind first when you think of kayaking? The calm and quiet you derive from the natural scenery that surrounds you as you paddle away? The energy surging through you as you navigate against the force of flowing water? Well, the next time you take your kayak out to the water, be sure to keep in mind that you’re also doing your health a great favour as you should soon discover.

Now, if you’re just about to venture into the world of kayaking, there might be some little doubts here and there. The bits of knowledge you’re about to acquire might just be what you need as a final nudge in the direction of water with your new kayak and paddles. Some information on the best starter kayaks and the essential items needed for kayaking shouldn’t hurt either.

So, let’s start with the more obvious ones. If you’ve been paddling kayaks for quite a while now, it’ll be hard to dismiss how toned your upper body muscles (those of the chest, back, and shoulders) must look now. If you’re just starting, try to take some pictures now for your ‘before and after’ reference. The muscle bulk that comes with kayaking is hardly surprising when you discover that anyone would need to perform an average of 500 strokes to paddle for a mile.

Let’s go practical. You sit upright in a kayak, paddle in hand rowing through the water. The arm muscles- deltoids, biceps, and triceps get in all of the action. The biceps do the real job of driving the paddle through water but without the triceps, the up-and-down movements of your arms while rotating the paddle are almost impossible. The forearms and hands do all the gripping or else there’d be no handling a paddle in the first place. They also do it firmly and that’s why the paddles don’t slip off with every stroke. These muscles do a lot of work and muscles always respond to increased work by growing bigger and stronger.

The strokes taken during kayaking should explain how it builds the upper body but they might not suffice as an explanation for the next line you’re about to read. Kayaking impacts the lower limbs(thighs down to the legs) as much as the upper body! Have you ever tried to paddle a kayak with tied legs? Most likely never. With the first stroke, the kayak should take a dip in the water with you. This is because the legs stabilize the body on the kayak by applying the needed pressure. Furthermore, negotiating a turn needs a lot of work from the rapidly contracting and relaxing leg muscles.

How about the core body muscles of the abdomen and lower back? They’re very much involved. In reaching forward with each stroke, you contract your abs. The lower back muscles do the task of contracting when you pull. Ordinarily, sitting upright while paddling a kayak means the core body muscles are steady to maintain the position. Basically, all of the rotation done by the upper body muscles need the coordination and stability the core body muscles offer.

Here’s where we pause to ask ourselves a question. What other body muscles are left? Well, none except those of the head and neck. Nobody goes to the gym for the muscles of the head and neck, right? No. This means that kayaking does the job of a full-body workout! Oh, really? Kayaking just sounds like a couple of hours sitting and paddling away to me, you might think. Well, what if you knew that an hour of kayaking might do more for most of your muscle groups than an entire gym session? Try to alternate between wide and narrow grips during your next few lake sprints to add some spice to it. However, anyhow you paddle, you’re sure to get good body exercising.

It shouldn’t be difficult to see how kayaking also builds strength and endurance. The daily routine of packing and unpacking your gear, moving the kayak, and paddling proper definitely counts for a lot in strength. All of that muscle bulk also means that you can lift a lot of weight easily. If you consistently kayak for hours on end twice to thrice in a week, there’s no way you’re easily getting tired during any activity. Kayaking gives a lot of stamina and improves endurance.

If you’re looking to shed some weight or maintain the status quo, kayaking is your go-to activity. With every hour you paddle at an average of 5mph, you could burn over  400 calories. Give 2 afternoons to kayaking every week and 3-4 hours of paddling can mean burning well over 3000 calories weekly. There’s no doubt that kayaking for weight loss is a lot more fun than lifting weights or running a mile for the same purpose. If your main concern is the excess belly fat, kayaking should help burn all of it away and leave you with a sturdy six-pack abdomen.

It’s time to move onto the less obvious benefits. Kayaking is known to improve heart health because it is classified as an aerobic sport. The heart’s strength is tested during kayaking and it responds by getting bigger and stronger muscles. This helps it in pumping blood all through the body. The body’s need for lots of oxygen while kayaking spurs an increase in the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the bone marrow further increasing capacity for physical activity.

Kayaking out in the sun is sure to activate the labile vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is very important to several body processes. Our bones and teeth need it for strength. The immune system needs it to fight off diseases. The muscles, heart, and brain are not left out. They all require their fair share of vitamin D for their various activities.

How about one’s mental health? Muscles, heart, bones, and all but nothing about the psychological well-being? Not at all. Kayaking impacts your mental health too. Every time out kayaking is always a chance to breathe a lot of fresh air and bask in the glory of nature surrounding you. For your mental health, that means decreased stress levels and increased feelings of happiness and positivity. This isn’t just a statement. It is scientifically proven that an aerobic exercise like kayaking helps to release endorphins, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These are chemicals that act on the brain to elevate mood, reduce stress, and boost self-image.

Come to think of it, how do you feel while you navigate your way around the sheer force of some rushing lakes? Exhilarating, right? Kayaking helps to build confidence! There’s a way beating the waves can make you feel indomitable. Your powers of concentration are also enhanced during kayaking as you need them to manoeuvre successfully anyway. In still water, there’s that chance to utilize the quiet to settle for inner peace over one’s many troubles. If you’re doing it with friends and family, it’s a great tike to strengthen the bonds of love. By the way, how do you feel when you see the results of your weeks of kayaking? Delighted, no doubt. Motivated, even.

Kayaking also helps with the quality of sleep. The odds are you’re exhausted after an afternoon out kayaking. Then, you hit the bed at night for a wonderful rest. This in turn helps to improve memory coupled with the fact that aerobic exercises  increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of our brain responsible for memory. This means a better capacity for retaining knowledge.

It probably appears that it’s all good and no bad with kayaking when health is concerned. This is not true. People can suffer injury while kayaking. Quite commonly, people often ask ‘Can kayaking cause back pain or sciatica?’ You could also wonder if kayaking is bad for your shoulder. Let’s answer these questions.

Kayaking can cause back pain. However, kayaking doesn’t have to cause back pain as there are several ways to avoid back pain while kayaking. Kayakers are occasionally known to use the term ‘yak back’ to describe the lower back pain and stiffness experienced due to kayaking. The majority of these cases are mild and often go away with some care. The key to preventing this pain is proper positioning while kayaking. Beginners should learn the proper techniques of paddling. If you’ve been kayaking for some time now, be careful not to test your limits.

How about Sciatica? The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back and runs down to the big toe. Irritation of this nerve is felt as the pain known as ‘Sciatica’. Kayaking usually requires sitting in a position that might appear to cause sciatica. However, kayaking doesn’t usually cause sciatica. It’s rather known to aggravate it if it’s already pre-existing. There are many ways to prevent this. Most people with sciatica can kayak. If one has a major back condition, it isn’t advisable. Your doctor should be consulted before you decide on cases like this.

The shoulder is very much involved in the process of kayaking. Not surprisingly, shoulder strains and sprains happen frequently to kayakers. Kayakers who try to overextend their arms or straighten their arms forcefully and suddenly are more likely to have these injuries. Kayaking isn’t bad for your shoulders if you’re conversant with the tips to avoid injury to the shoulder.

Are there ways to kayak even with an injury? It depends. Minor back pains or muscle aches may not be problems. On the contrary, kayaking might stretch these areas and keep them from getting too tense, making the healing process faster. Better still, it’s important to learn how to prevent injury while kayaking. You might also want to seek professional advice on issues like this before acting.

One thing is sure, the pros of kayaking largely overwhelm the cons. The key is in learning the right way to do things and acting likewise. If you’ve been kayaking for some time now, you might want to do a couple of extra hours more every week to maximize these health benefits. If you’ve never gone kayaking, this might just be the best time to start.

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