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Kayak Your Way to Better Health

Searching for a form of exercise that's fun and challenging? Try kayaking.

Unlike most sports, rowing and paddling activities such as kayaking concentrate on the upper body rather than on the legs. "You get the muscles of the abdominal area, the lower and upper back and the shoulder girdle all involved," says Jay T. Kearney, Ph.D., a former U.S. Olympic canoeist and head sports physiologist for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "And as you get stronger, more fit and more capable, your kayak paddling can reach an aerobic level that can help with weight management and cardiovascular health."

To get in shape for kayaking, Dr. Kearney recommends that you focus on strengthening your body's core, particularly your abdominal muscles and the upper back's pulling muscles. "Kayaking involves much more pulling than pushing," says Dr. Kearney, a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. He suggests pull-ups, push-ups, and/or exercises with dumbbells or a rowing machine that replicate this pulling motion.

Whether you are interested in recreational flat water, whitewater and/or coastal kayaking (each involves a different type of kayak), your next step should be to get some instruction. Visit the American Canoe Association (ACA) to get started. See if you can find a local course in kayaking. A course should cover such topics as getting out of a kayak and back to shore if you flip over, how to rescue others, looking for obstacles, and basic kayaking strokes. A local kayaking club offers opportunities to kayak with others.

"Paddling with a club is a great way to stay safe on the water because you are surrounded by a community of veteran paddlers who pass on important information about how to be safe on the water," says Dana Fry, commodore of the 101-year-old Philadelphia Canoe Club.