How can something so relaxing do such a good job at giving you a whole-body workout at the same time? Paddleboarding sure has the answers to that. Steadily growing in popularity, paddleboarding is often considered a relaxing, less extreme water sport, which it is. Despite this, it brings a whole display of physical benefits that most people would never even have thought of. It may not be as intense as surfing, but it certainly is not one to be underestimated.
First of all, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) is a prime exercise to engage your core, due to the balance required to stay standing and not topple off when it gets breezy. Your core is constantly engaged when paddleboarding, especially in trickier weather. Even in calmer waters, the frequent twisting and turning while paddling is a great step towards abs of steel. Having a strong core is excellent practice for a lot of other elements of fitness, and it improves posture, reduces back pain, prevents injuries, and many more. The stronger your core becomes, the easier paddleboarding will get too, making challenging waters more accessible.
As well as your core, your arms, legs, back, and shoulders are all constantly engaged when paddling, meaning that you are constantly building lean muscle in those areas. It, therefore, goes without saying that paddleboarding is a great way to lose weight- in my opinion, a much better option than any fad diet because it is something genuinely enjoyable to partake in. Depending on how long you are on the water (in my case, as long as possible), SUP is a fantastic way to improve your cardiovascular endurance and work your aerobic system. All of this essentially means getting to live longer too, which also means getting to paddleboard for longer, which is a complete win-win.
Not only this, but SUP really benefits injury-prone athletes, due to the way that balancing on a floating paddleboard strongly imitates a lot of physical therapy exercises. The fact that it is low-impact also means that anyone with knee pain, shin splints, or any other injuries do not need to worry about straining themselves further. With the way that you are positioned on the board, and the slow movement required to paddle, it really is highly unlikely that you could cause any damage to your tendons or ligaments. This makes it a much safer bet than anything strenuous like tennis or running, yet burns a comparable amount of calories. Standing on the paddleboard actually improves your joint support and balance in such a way that no other recreational activity can- potentially due to the embarrassment of falling off in front of fellow paddleboarders- and is so relaxing that you hardly even notice it.
How can it get any better? Just wait- it can. Not only does paddle boarding massively improve your physical fitness, but I haven’t even scratched the surface of its benefits with regard to your mental wellbeing. In today’s climate, particularly after the pandemic, stress levels are at an all-time high. The world is a busy, frantic place, and can become unbearable a lot of the time; but out on the water things become simple, and all you have to focus on is staying on that board.
Exercise generally has a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and stress. It is a well-known fact that it helps you sleep better and makes your brain release endorphins which make you feel good. However, it is also a well-known fact that many people can be prone to over-exercising, or obsessively exercising to simply look a certain way, which can actually then lead to the opposite effect on our mental health. Paddleboarding is not a sport in which this can tend to happen, making it genuinely nothing but a positive and healthy experience for your mind and body.
Human beings are supposed to spend time in nature, and prolonged periods absent from it can be damaging. SUP is an ideal way to reconnect with the world around us. The sedative nature of the water around you, breathing in the fresh salt air, and the steady flow of the waves are (not shockingly) the perfect remedy for stress relief. This is no trip to a gym filled with glorified toxic beauty standards, or an entire industry designed to profit from your personal insecurities (maybe a rant for another time), but this is still a full-body workout not to be underestimated, only without the nasty expectations. Purely an endorphin trip, essentially.
If you’re thinking of getting into meditation, paddleboarding has been described as the perfect environment to tap into your ‘zen.’ Also known as ‘Zazen,’ this form of meditation comes from Buddhist psychology, and has been passed down from generation to generation for around 2500 years. Essentially what this means is that you are hyper-aware of every part of your body. Paddleboarding enables you to do this because you are constantly focusing on not falling off by paying special attention to your center of gravity and concentrating on using all of your muscles. This brings an increased awareness of your physical body. During this particular type of meditation, you are supposed to dismiss any other thoughts that pop into your mind- which is definitely easy when your only focus is staying upright on your board. There is a lot of research that clearly shows that zen meditation has a range of cognitive, physical, and emotional benefits, but a lot of people are doubtful of this, or simply don’t have the time in a day to sit and meditate. This makes paddleboarding perfect, since you’re out there anyway, see for yourself how it relaxes you!
If you’re lucky enough to have a group of friends who enjoy paddleboarding, it is the perfect way to relax together. Spending intentional time with your favorite people is important to de-stress, and forget your long to-do lists surrounded by a positive support network. You may have some belly laugh moments of hysteria if the weather isn’t quite in your favor, or if the weather is too choppy, but choose the right spot and you are guaranteed to have a chilled time.
With this in mind, to create this perfect, relaxed state you will need to find a good location with good weather. A consistent favorite of mine would be St Augustine’s, in Florida. If it is pure serenity which you are after, try St. John’s river. Often described as a ‘lazy river,’ and with a flow rate of only 0.3mph, this river is ideal for relaxing on, and not straining yourself with anything too high-impact. Alternatively, if yoga paddleboarding is something you’d like to try out, the water here is forgiving enough for you to attempt a headstand without being filled with fear. There are plenty of SUP shops in the local area that offers yoga paddleboarding in group sessions, which I would definitely recommend- as it isn’t really something you can get away with just watching a YouTube tutorial on.
Vilano beach would be another personal recommendation of mine if you are seeking mental health benefits from paddleboarding. The sunsets are so breathtakingly spectacular that being out on the water during golden hour is perfect for de-stressing and clearing your mind of unnecessary stress. Leave your waterproof camera at home, and let yourself be present with the scenery around you. Another thing that makes it ideal for a mental health escape, is its serene perfection, which has been perfectly preserved.
Vilano beach itself is sometimes referred to as ‘St Augustine’s best-kept secret,’ for being a favorite among locals, and not heaving with tourists. The President of Vilano beach said once that “a lot of Florida communities abandon the core of their town and give it up for tourism… We want a town that sustains itself for the locals but also welcomes the tourists,” which they have well and truly sustained successfully. A result of this is less litter, nobody is permitted to drive across the beach, more chance at securing a parking space, and generally a more relaxing and enjoyable paddleboarding trip. Just… try not to tell too many people about it.
Florida generally is so perfect for improving your mental health by paddle boarding due to the gorgeous sunlight that it is so rarely without. Being out on Florida’s waters, you can virtually feel your body boosting its Vitamin D production, serotonin-boosting into your brain, and any seasonal depression you may have had simply worn away. Just make sure to remember to wear sunscreen though.
So now that you know what you know, there really is no time to waste. Grab a board, grab a paddle, and head out. Find somewhere sunny, somewhere calm, and let yourself reconnect with nature. Sometimes people really just need something simple to get their health back on track, and paddleboarding really is that simple.