Few things are as satisfying as a good physical workout. Circuit training, cross fit, aerobics and weight training are all good examples of indoor activities that can build endurance, tone and maintain muscle mass, and increase strength and stamina. Outdoor activities such as running, team athletics and cycling can have equally beneficial results. Regardless of the sport or routine, physical fitness is always worth the effort.
One of the best and fastest growing outdoor sports for enjoyment and fitness is paddling. Whether canoeing or kayaking, the health benefits are immediate and the enjoyment is boundless. The watercraft are similar, but with individual design differences in size and usage. Kayaks are normally designed for a single paddler, although many tandem craft are available. The hulls either feature a sit-on-top or a wrap around design. Canoes typically are built for two persons, the larger ones sometimes for three. Smaller canoes are also available for those who prefer the openness of a canoe, but prefer to paddle alone.
As with any new sport, it is prudent to seek out some lessons or instruction before setting out. In addition, a personal flotation device is a must when paddling, not for safety alone but to ensure compliance with local statutes. It is also a good idea to take the first few voyages in a lake or very slow moving stream before moving on to swiftly flowing or narrow streams.
Once underway, either alone or paddling with a partner, it is easy to fall into a rhythmic pattern that is comfortable and refreshing. Although it appears that only the arms and shoulders are working, the natural act of paddling results in whole-body conditioning. The back, arm, shoulder and chest muscles act in concert, and the legs and torso flex with each stroke, applying pressure and torque with each rotation of the upper body.
By varying the length and frequency of each stroke, the workout can be as invigorating or as relaxing as the paddler desires. Elevated heart rate and increasingly deep and rapid breathing are good for the cardiovascular system, and accrue whole body benefits. Since the paddle is pulling through water, and not against static weight, the risk of injury is slight compared to other workout routines.
Strength and conditioning, while important results of canoeing and kayaking, are not the only health benefits of the sport. Many studies have demonstrated the healthful benefits of time spent outdoors, enjoying fresh air and the natural world. The experience has a calming effect which is measurable, and is associated with lowering blood pressure, stress levels and anxiety. Many paddlers venture out alone, and can enter a meditative state which is enhanced by the rhythm of the paddle, the silence of the water and the steady physical exertion.
Compared to many sports, canoeing and kayaking are inexpensive. Aside from the initial expense of craft, life preserver and paddles, all one needs is access to a body of water. Transport is made simple with a roof rack, and a favorite pet can even be invited along as a companion.