Putting the Fun Back into Fitness

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Here in Australia, it is fair to say that kayaking or ‘paddling’ is in. The minute I sit in a kayak with a paddle in my hands and feel the sensation of the criss-cross motion gliding through the water, all cares vanish. Prof Jennie Brand-Miller tells me that she has an ‘industrial strength’ blow-up kayak and like me, she finds paddling around the harbour with her husband, John and their miniature poodle, Sacha, a complete release and a great workout.

Kayaking is a low impact activity that can improve your aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility. You can take up paddling as a hobby, a competitive sport or for an active holiday (there are kayaking safaris). However, no activity is for everyone. People with tight hip flexors or bad backs often find the seated posture in a kayak painful.

When you kayak with the correct technique – pushing the pegs with your legs, engaging your core muscles, and working your torso and arms with a criss-cross figure 8 motion – you work your entire body without strain, using the resistance of the water. Wind, tide and current can add additional pleasure, exhilaration, motivation and cardiovascular effort.

On top of this, you can experience the beauty of the world around you from a unique perspective, discovering new nooks and crannies in familiar places. Kayaking has transformed travel for me, and I now hunt down places to paddle wherever I roam – Perth, the Whitsundays and Israel so far, with Hawaii and Switzerland on the agenda for 2014.

Canoeing in the Whitsundays

Paddling in the Whitsundays

To get started, it’s a good idea to take some lessons, or join a local paddling group or club. People of all ages and levels of fitness can enjoy canoeing and kayaking, but you need to be properly prepared (and that includes stretching before and after) and use your common sense. Better Health Victoria has an excellent fact sheet on safe paddling and kayaking.

Emma Sandall runs Body Playground, an online space for discovering how to put the fun back into your fitness routines. With fellow Body Playground director and Pilates teacher, Peta Green, she has developed a new and expressive style of workout that brings together the technical and fluid aspects of Pilates, yoga and ballet. For tips on stretching or to learn a nice sequence you can do any time, any place, check out Vimeo.