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Kayaking is Perfect for Seniors

It is never too late to fall in love with kayaking! If you are of a certain age and want to find an exercise that gets your blood pumping, tones your muscles, strengthens your core, and gets you out in nature, look no further than kayaking. With a little bit of thoughtfulness and preparation, seniors can enjoy kayaking for years to come.

So, why is kayaking perfect for seniors? Read on to find out.

Advantages of Kayaking for Seniors

  • Mental sharpness & acuity: Kayaking helps to stimulate your mind as you problem-solve, plan, and execute. 
  • Low impact: At its simplest, kayaking is sitting in a boat and paddling along at the pace you set. There is little to no impact on joints. (The hardest part is getting in and out of the kayak!) 
  • Cardiovascular health: Kayaking is aerobic meaning it gets your heart rate up to build heart muscle and efficiency as well as red blood cell counts.
  • Strength building: Paddling around uses all the muscles in your body  – from your chest, shoulders, and arms for paddling to your core for balance to your legs for turning and maneuvering.  
  • Flexibility: Maneuvering in and out of the kayak, paddling, and turning the kayak all require staying flexible and stretching those muscles. 
  • Core strength: As mentioned above, kayaking engages all your muscles, but strengthening your core is particularly important as this aids in balance which can translate into everyday life. Maintaining a strong core can help with balance and preventing falls (which becomes more important as we age.)
  • Endurance: Building up your endurance pays dividends throughout your life as it lets you stay active longer, enjoy your favorite activities, and increase your energy levels.
  • Calorie burn: Kayaking burns calories which can help contribute to a healthy weight - so important for overall health.
  • Vitamin D: While getting out in nature is its own reward, it also comes with the benefit of sun exposure which is vital for vitamin D (just be aware and not OVER DO it. Wear that sunscreen!)

However, to gain all these benefits, seniors should consider a few adaptations as they respond to their needs, bodies, skill levels, and desires.

Adapting Your Equipment For Seniors

  • Go light. Probably the biggest thing you can do for yourself is remind yourself to GO LIGHT. Invest in lightweight gear (paddles, kayak, PFD) and pack light as well. There is no sense in needlessly hauling more than you need over the water. And if there ever is a need to portage, you don’t want anything extra dragging you down. Inflatable kayaks and folding kayaks for easier portability may be a good option.
  • Stability over speed. If you don’t already have a kayak you are using, purchase a kayak that prizes stability over speed. At this point, you probably aren’t looking to break any world records. In fact, you are probably more interested in staying IN the boat. Choose an extremely stable craft, even if this means you lose out on speed.
  • Choose sit-on-top, if possible: Invest in a kayak that is sit-on-top for the easiest entry and exit. Traditional sit-in kayaks are also great but they require a bit more flexibility and technique to get in and out of a small cockpit. If you do choose a sit-inside, consider one with a larger cockpit which enables more room to maneuver in and out. 
  • Comfortable Seat with back support: For sit-on-top kayaks, don’t skimp on your seat. If you are going to be spending hours on the water, do it in comfort. Choose a kayak seat with padding and back support so that you are comfortable the whole day. Older bodies don’t bounce back the way younger ones do. Do all you can to keep your back, spine, and sit bones happy.
  • Kayak cart: If there is any chance you will need to get your kayak any distance (from car to launch, or portaging) get a kayak cart. This will save you a lot of headaches, heartaches, and muscle aches. Even if you have a lighter-weight kayak, don’t dismiss a cart to help you get it around. Remember the goal is to get to the water and enjoy a paddle, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Pulling a muscle or injuring yourself only prevents you from enjoying more days on the water. 
  • Kayak loader: In keeping with the above argument, a kayak loader is also an excellent addition for senior paddlers. Sometimes, the biggest hurdle to face is getting the kayak onto the top of the car. Investing in a kayak loader (a mechanical device that uses a hydraulic arm to put the kayak on top of the car) is a wise move, especially if you don’t have any younger assistance along.
  • Tow rope: While this should be in any kayaker's safety arsenal it can be especially helpful to have it handy for seniors. If you need a little extra "oompf" to get you to shore, a tow rope is just what you need.
  • Pull-up / Stand-up assist: Look into options that help you to stand up. This is important for getting into and out of the kayak. They are common for kayak anglers who like to stand to cast and need a little help when they are out on the water, but they are great for seniors as well. Often it is a band attached to the front of the kayak that you can use to pull yourself up (or conversely, hold it to lower yourself down). But there are also bar options as well.
  • Look for docks with a kayak launch: Using a kayak launch can make the entry and exit of the kayak so much easier. Make it a priority to look for these when kayaking.

Adapting Your Technique for Seniors

  • Use off season / off peak: Take advantage if your schedule allows you to kayak at times when others aren’t! If you are retired, go during weekdays when others are at work. Avoid weekends and school holidays when crowds descend on your favorite spot. This gives you time and space to maneuver and gear up & down. 
  • Find an entry and exit strategy that works for you. This is likely the most intimidating thing about kayaking for seniors. Getting into and out of that rocking boat can be scary.

A few tips to consider:

    • Read our post: Kayaking 101: How to Get In and Out of a Kayak
    • Watch YouTube videos to see what others do. There are almost as many options as there are paddlers.
    • Practice on dry land before you attempt anything on the water
    • Ask someone to help hold the kayak. 
    • Invest in a pull-up assist device which can be especially helpful for exiting on a dock
    • Use a sit-on-top or large cockpit sit-in kayak
    • Find or invest in a kayak launch (a dock that holds your kayak in place as you enter & exit)
    • Entering from shallow water is also popular as it raises the kayak so you aren’t sitting on something so low to the ground. (However, this option will require getting wet).
  • Slow down: In this day and age, it seems that everything is a manic rush. Don’t let your kayaking experience be that way. Just slow down, take your time, and enjoy the space you are in. Nothing has to be done in a hurry.
  • Stretch daily: Before you go out for a paddle, warm up your muscles. Make sure to stretch and move. And do this, along with some light weights, even during the off-season. Keep your body moving.
  • Hone your paddling technique to reduce injury. The better you are at paddling your kayak the less likely that you will get injured. And you will be more efficient. Never stop honing your paddling skills. This aids in mental sharpness as well.

Adapting Your Mindset

  • Be honest. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is know ourselves. Hopefully, as we age we get better at acknowledging our weaknesses. In kayaking into your later years, don’t be afraid to admit to accommodations and changes that need to be made. Know your skill level and don’t overextend yourself. 
  • Ask for help. It is always best to kayak with a friend so hopefully you already have someone around to lend a hand, but don’t be afraid to use others. Especially with entering & exiting the kayaking and loading & unloading it, an extra set of hands is so beneficial. You might even consider guided tours and lessons. This puts a lot of the heavy-lifting (literally and figuratively) on someone else. Knowledgeable guides can help keep equipment in excellent shape, load & unload, assist in entry & exit, as well as show you the lay of the land. Win!
  • Embrace comfort. Do everything you can to ensure that you are comfortable in your ‘yak. Take care of your body so that you can come back and do it again. Don’t be shy to call it when you’ve had enough.
  • Stay safe. Don’t exceed your limits but also make sure that you have taken safety precautions. Always wear a life vest (PFD), apply sunscreen, and drink plenty of water. Don’t take unnecessary risks. But with that said. . . 
  • YOLO. You only live once, so get out there and enjoy it. 

Don’t let aging slow you down! If you are looking for a way to stay fit and active, then try kayaking. If you want to stay sharp and hone new skills, try kayaking. If you want to embrace life and get out in nature, try kayaking. Whatever your age or restrictions, try kayaking!

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