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Health Benefits of Kayak Exercise

by Derek - Floating Authority(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 248 - August 2018

Republished from


Kayak Exercise is a great form of exercising any way you look at it. Not only does kayaking benefit your physical body but it also benefits your mind. To learn the basics of kayaking from a beginner’s perspective, please consult this Step by Step Beginner’s Guide. Before we go into this in detail about kayak exercise and the health benefits of kayaking let’s first get a bit of a background on the sport.

Kayak-Excursion Photo

Photo by Jeff Wolsleger Photography

History of Kayaking

Kayaking was originally invented by the Inuit and Aleut peoples around the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea and North Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. They were made of wood or whale bones that were covered with skins of seals. The craft is believed to be around 4,000 years old and were used for hunting purposes in coastal oceans, rivers and lakes.

Types of Kayaks

Kayaks come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and purposes. Before you decide to dive right in let’s go through some of them to give you the best idea of what will fit your lifestyle. Many of these categories tend to overlap.

Recreational Kayaks


Recreational Kayaks

These are usually the starting point for many kayakers looking to get into the sport. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and purposes. The most common characteristic of these kayaks is that that they are stable. Read more here

Inflatable Kayaks.


Inflatable Kayaks

These are some of the bestselling kayaks nowadays because of their portability. The most common buyers of these kayaks are beginners or people who are downsizing and don’t have the room for a hard shelled kayak anymore. Read more here

Touring Kayaks


Touring Kayaks

These Kayaks are usually geared towards intermediate paddlers who want to travel longer distances. Some common characteristics of these boats is that they have a longer length and have a thinner cockpit. These features allow touring kayaks to have better tracking ability and paddle along at a greater speed. Read more here


Fishing Kayaks


Fishing Kayaks

When many people think of fishing on the water they think of a father son in a canoe fishing but kayak fishing is long on its way to surpassing it. Fishing Kayaks are usually made to be stable to allow the angler to stand and cast. Many fishing kayaks also feature hatches and places to store your fishing gear. Read more here

Sit on Top Kayaks


Sit On Top Kayaks

These kayaks are not covered but can be used for a wide variety of reasons. Many people choose sit on top kayaks because there is more room to store belonging that you want to bring with you such as back, packs coolers, snacks or even your child or dog! Read More Here

Tandem Kayaks


Tandem Kayaks

These kayaks are meant for two or more people. They can be found in all of the above categories. These kayaks are preferred by people who may be on a budget that don’t want two separate kayaks or family members. To use these boats you oftentimes have to paddle in unison which can take some getting used to. Read more Here

White Water Kayaks


White Water Kayaks

These are for the adrenaline junkies as they are usually found in fast moving waters. They are very short and feature narrow hulls. They also require a tremendous amount of skill to manoeuvre.


Now that we have given you a few things to think about let’s get back to the health benefits of kayaking! I decided to go about this to compare some of the physical benefits with exercises that you would typically see in the gym and the muscles that they work. There are also some mental and social benefits as well. I believe these are just as if not more important than the physical benefits.



Mental Benefits of Kayak Exercise

  • Strengthens your Mental Health

Kayak exercise helps bring positivity and clarity to your mental health. For many people who suffer from depression they often underestimate their self-worth so as a result it makes their thoughts spiral out of control.  Kayaking helps bring clarity to that feeling in the sense that you are using your whole body to propel you forward. That in turn releases endorphins in the brain from the physical activity. There is also a feeling of tranquility involved in being in the open water;

  • Brings Mental Calmness

Being out in the open water is very meditative and allows your brain to release those thousands of thoughts that are racing through your brain and instead enjoy the moment. In fact many people make it a routine to do some kayak exercise after work as it helps them de-stress and enjoy being in the moment;

  • Reduces Stress

It’s a long day at the office, you are thinking of all those emails you have to send and how the boss hates your guts. Well forget all of that stuff and jump into a kayak after a long day of work! A consistent amount of added stress can be dangerous to your long term health so why not take a breather?  Truth is there is lots of ways to destress including going to the gym , going for a walk but none of them can be compared with the tranquillity that the combination of floating on the calm water and being in the great outdoors can provide. When you add the physical activity of paddling it can greatly reduce stress loads allowing you to think clearer and giving you a better night’s sleep;

  • Increases your Social Circle

You may think it’s weird to put this in with health benefits but they actually go hand in hand! Humans have evolved over time to be social, they need to be with other human beings in order to achieve some level of happiness. If you don’t have a lot of friends or your job takes you away from being around different people meeting new friends while kayaking is a great way to go! You could even join a club or take lessons. Who knows you might even find that special someone you have been searching for!

  • Helps Increase your Confidence

A lot of people can grow up with mental disorders or depression as they grow up which takes quite a toll on their confidence. However if you take up kayaking and meet people with similar interests as you all while being outside it kind of makes you forget about all of that stuff. I recently watched a video where these adolescents had depression but found a happy place competing in whitewater slalom kayaking courses! Once you start feeling good about yourself or what you are doing, it helps you in your quest for happiness;

  • Helps Increase Mental Focus

It has been proven time after time that doing some sort of physical activity then getting back to work helps you get through the day with more focus and determination. This is no different for kayaking! Perhaps introduce your boss to kayaking?

  • Gives you Emotional Benefits

The time spent in nature is probably one of the most surreal things you can experience!  If you are a couple kayaking with a favourite activity such as fishing or touring then it increases your positivity tenfold! It also has the opportunity to bring people closer together such as families, couples or friends!

  • Puts You in a Routine

If you enjoy kayaking you want to do it more right?  With all the benefits listed it would be a good idea to schedule it into some sort of routine where you designate certain days to go kayaking. Don’t have a roof rack or a truck? Get an inflatable kayak! There is really no excuse for you to get some physical exercise and enjoy the peaceful tranquillity nature has to offer!

  • Makes You Happier

The combination of any kind of physical exercise and spending time in the great outdoors has a proven effect that makes you happier. So if you like kayaking go out and explore what waterways are out there! Kayak exercise helps you maintain a more active, healthy and happier lifestyle all while exploring new areas!



Physical Benefits of Kayak Exercise

  • Improves the Cardiovascular System

Paddling a Kayak consistently helps your cardiovascular system which has great benefits for your heart. Doing any physical activity helps with this however kayaking is one that is actually distracting in a good sort of way. How many normal people do cardiovascular exercises is go for a run or on the treadmill but it can be quite boring. Kayaking allows you to be out in nature and explore your water ways. This really distracts you from feeling the burn a lot of the times;

  • Increased Muscle Strength in your back

Kayaking is like the equivalent of doing a single arm dumbbell or seated cable row in that every stroke you take works the lats. While one of the arms is rowing back the other is being stretched and then contracted. The difference is you are doing this exercise for a longer period of time;

  • Helps Increase Ab Definition

Not to many people think of this but your abs get worked quite a bit when kayaking! The rotational movements of moving the paddle back and forth for an extended period of time really work on your abdomen and obliques! This puts a huge load on your core as seen below!

  • Increased Torso and Core Strength

These muscles are being exercised when you are steering and balancing the kayak with every stroke. The longer you go the more work is being done to them!

  • Increased Strength In Your Arms

During a kayaking session the two main bi- products of the work is the biceps and triceps. As one arm rows in the biceps are hit, the other arm is using a forward extension thus putting torque on the paddle which creates work for the triceps. A similar gym exercise that can be compared to this is very high rep pull ups. Your hands and forearms will be tired after a period of none stop paddling!

  • Increased Strength in Your Shoulders

Believe it or not shoulders are actually more involved in a kayak exercise than a typical back workout. The motion of the paddle coming up after each stroke and extending forward again really works the shoulders. The muscles being used in that motion are the large lateral muscle up to the shoulders as well as the rear, anterior and lateral deltoids. Your grip also has a part to play in what muscles are being used more just like in the gym;

  • Increased Strength in Your Chest

The movements involved can be compared to a single arm dumbbell bench press, but different in a way. Anytime you do a rowing motion of any particular kind the pectoral muscles flex to stabilise the shoulder and the arm as they pull in. While not as noticeable as doing a full on bench press over time  you will notice a subtle difference;

  • Helps Increase your Leg Strength

The Legs are an important part of balance within the kayak. As you learn a better paddling technique you learn to work the legs with the hips to help turn stabilize or brace the kayak;

  • Helps with Weight Loss

Weight Loss is a common problem in today’s society. However with the combination of the above exercises being utilised kayaking actually does help you lose weight. However as with anything you have to be kayaking consistently to start seeing a difference. Paddling a kayak once will not make a difference in that regard. The more seat time you get in your kayak the more weight will shed off!

  • Helps Bring Vitamin D into your body

Vitamin D is something that our bodies need to properly function. Unfortunately a lot of us don’t get enough of it. It is hard to get Vitamin D in foods so what is the alternative? Go out and get some sun! Being Outside in the sun helps your body get that special vitamin it needs to properly function. Just remember to bring sun screen!

  • Increases Your Stamina

Similar to any physical activity the more you do it the better you get at it! Kayaking is no different. As you kayak more you will be more in tune with how the boat boat behaves and how much longer you can paddle without getting tired! It is definitely one of the more enjoyable ways to increase your stamina.


These are the main Mental and Physical Benefits to Kayak exercise that I could find but the truth is there are probably thousands out there! Kayaking is a great hobby or sport to get into that involves people from all ages and backgrounds. Even if you do not have a kayak you can still head out to your local rental store where you can test them out and make an informed decision for yourself. Please do remember to bring a Life Jacket with you at all times, better safe than sorry right?

If you are thinking of experiencing kayaking in different places in the world check this article out


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About Derek - Floating Authority

Derek - Floating Authority created a website dedicated to creating informal buyer and how to guides on a variety of different outdoor recreational as well as professional outdoor floating devices such as Kayak’s, Canoes, PaddleBoards and more! Derek has been a floating enthusiast since he was 5 years old, enjoying riding in his parents’ canoe in Ontario’s Provincial parks or getting up at the crack of dawn to head out in their canoe and go fishing for Pike! Many great stories can be told (like the time we unexpectedly caught a Pike Canoeing in Quebec all while a lightning storm was about to hit the lake!); he owes a great deal of them to floating on the calm waters of Quebec and Ontario.

Since then he has enjoyed a variety of other Floating devices such as Kayaks and Paddle boards which has motivated him to create buyer guides to make it easier for readers to choose the floating device that works for them and their lifestyle. He has since been transplanted to the west coast of Vancouver so what applies to the lakes in Ontario doesn’t necessarily apply to the ocean surrounding Vancouver and the west coast in terms of Canoes and Kayaks. Derek may be contacted via

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