This Is Why Paddle Boarding Is a GREAT Workout: 13 Benefits of SUP

We just wrote a great post on the more than 10 muscles in your body you work when you paddle board. This doesn’t only include SUP boarding, but even sitting or lying down on your board. Does paddle boarding really constitute a solid workout, though?

Paddle boarding, in requiring so much from your body, is absolutely a great workout. After all, you get to reap these fantastic benefits:

  • Exercising in nature instead of being stuck in a stuffy gym
  • Improving your balance
  • Extending your flexibility
  • Letting yourself get into the flow
  • Helping your heart health
  • Encouraging weight loss
  • Getting more vitamin D
  • Lessening your stress
  • Boosting bodily strength
  • Stabilizing your joints
  • Increasing your endurance and stamina
  • Having many ways to change up your workout
  • Working your entire body

In this super detailed guide, we will expand on the above 13 benefits, telling you how you can begin enjoying a healthier body through SUP boarding today. Keep reading, as you’re definitely not going to want to miss it!

The 13 Health Benefits of Paddle Boarding

You Get to Spend More Time in Nature

Where do you usually exercise?

If you’re like most people, it’s probably at a gym, right? You either wake up early in the morning to get your sweat sesh in or you hit the gym after work. The gym has windows, but if you’re not right by one, then you get no natural light, only the artificial fluorescents.

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have exercise equipment in your home. Besides hitting the weights, you also like to roll out the yoga mat and stretch and flex through a routine. Even if you exercise at home, you’re indoors the entire time.

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as reported in SnowBrains notes how we spend most of our lives indoors (93 percent). That doesn’t give us much time outside at all, which is a real shame. Besides the benefits of sunlight (which we’ll talk about later in this article), outdoor time can help your health in plenty of ways.

These include:

  • Reducing anxiety through surrounding yourself in nature
  • Providing adequate sunlight to right your internal clock
  • Playing a role in reducing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or SAD
  • Keeping us healthier, as the airborne plant chemicals called phytoncides we breathe in could give our immune system a jolt
  • Acting as a natural source of energy

There’s also a correlation between spending time outdoors and experiencing less pain. Harvard Health Publishing cites a famous study about a group of people who had just come out of surgery. They were recovering in the hospital. Some participants had sunny hospital rooms with a window while others had windows that let in less light because they were facing a wall.

The patients with more sunlight felt the need to cut back on the pain meds they took because they reported less pain. Yes, all this from a bit of time in the sun! 

Since SUP boarding is always done outdoors, your body can enjoy these many benefits again and again.

Your Balance Improves

While the above perks can apply to any outdoor activity, here’s one that you get from paddle boarding specifically: better balance.

If you read our last post about the muscles you work in your body when you SUP board, it should come as no surprise that better balance is a given. The very fundamentals of paddle boarding insist that you can stand upright in unsteady conditions. You might not jump into ocean paddle boarding the first few times you ride, but few bodies of water will remain completely placid. The gentle ebbs and flow of the water present a constant challenge to maintain your balance.

You will need legs like tree trunks and a core that’s as hard as a rock. It’s okay if you come into paddle boarding without either, as you will strengthen, tone, and balance your body the more you ride.

We recommend practicing balancing on your paddle board before you ever grab a paddle. From an outsider’s perspective, it can look like you’re just standing on your board, but it’s so much more than that. You’re using every muscle in your core (such as your abdominals and your back muscles) as well as the muscles in your legs to keep yourself standing.

If you like to supplement your SUP riding with yoga, you will find that you’re a much better yogi once you get into paddle boarding. After all, now balancing will be no problem for you.

Your Flexibility Gets Better, Too

Speaking of doing yoga and being better at it, you’ll also find yourself getting naturally more flexible through SUP boarding. The way you must arch your back and legs, move your arms, and keep parts of your body straight as you paddle all demand great flexibility from your body.

Again, it’s okay if this isn’t something you excel at the beginning, as few skilled SUP boarders are born that way. The more you practice and stick with it, the more you’ll find that you can turn your shoulder a few degrees more than you once could or that you can now arch your back in a way that hurt a few weeks ago.

In sticking with paddle boarding, you can retain this body looseness and even improve your degree of flexibility further with time. That can come in handy if you ever find yourself riding in rougher waters than anticipated. For instance, maybe you end up in the ocean as the tides change. With your better balance and flexibility, you can adjust your body to paddle through the waves without toppling off your board. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel will be huge!

And if you get those benefits from paddle boarding and yoga, imagine the synergy and benefits of combining the two.

It’s Easier to Achieve a Sense of Flow

Have you ever experienced flow before? It’s both a concept and a feeling. It’s when you get so immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time. Everything seems to come incredibly naturally to you. It’s an amazing sensation, but it’s not something you can force. It either happens or it doesn’t.

I get this with touring on the river Thames, and not so much paddleboarding on the sea or in lakes where fundamentally I’m just paddling around one small area. But on the Thames (or any river I imagine), you have a destination in mind and naturally, your paddle stroke becomes more fluid and into the flow you go. Pure bliss!

Many sources say that being out in nature can trigger your creativity, possibly allowing you to enter that state of flow. Not only will the ideas becoming one after another, but the flow mindset also puts you in a great state to achieve zen meditation.

You may also find that you enjoy a better sense of cognitive function, focus, and mood while you’re in a state of zen meditative flow. Your memory may increase, as can your empathy. The next time you’re out on a ride on your paddle board, see if you can get into the flow. As we said before, it’s not guaranteed, but when it happens, you’ll feel so much more fulfilled for it.

Exercises and yoga can help scuba divers stay in shape

Your Heart Will Be Healthier

We think it’s safe to assume that everyone wants a healthier heart. That’s especially true when conditions like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, heart failure, myocardial infarctions, coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, and congenital heart disease will often lead to death.

Regular exercise is one such way to improve heart health, but it’s the low-impact activity you get when paddle boarding that makes it so good for your ticker. The Adventure Junkies notes that if you paddle for 15 minutes daily, your cardiovascular system will be better for it.

Unlike your exercises at the gym, paddle boarding doesn’t have to be all high-intensity all the time, either. If you don’t want to work yourself too hard one day, that’s under your control. For example, maybe you have sore muscles from the day before. Then you take it easy and paddle at a casual pace.

Should you decide you want to enter a SUP race or at least pick up the pace for your own personal reasons, you can enjoy higher-intensity exercise that will get your blood moving and keep your heart healthier.

You Can Lose Weight

If you’re striving to drop some pounds, then you’re more than likely going to hit the gym and work harder, right? As we’ve said before, that means spending all that time indoors. It’s possible to lose weight through paddle boarding as well.

How much weight depends on the intensity of your paddling. Nixy Sports put together an interesting chart that outlines how many calories you burn doing various activities on your paddle board. The average weight for the data in the chart is between 160 and 200 pounds. You also must spend at least an hour on the board to burn these calories:

  • Leisurely paddle boarding: 305 to 430 calories
  • Touring: 615 to 708 calories
  • Paddle board yoga: 416 to 540 calories
  • Surfing on your paddle board: 623 to 735 calories
  • Racing on your paddle board: 713 to 1,125 calories

Yes, that’s right, you can theoretically burn more than 1,000 calories in an hour of paddling. Now, it’s important to mention that when you’re riding at a racing pace, to torch that many calories, you’d have to keep that tough pace up over the course of the 60 minutes. Otherwise, you probably don’t burn quite as many calories. Even if you only paddle along at that speed half the time, you’re still torching a good amount of calories.

You may have written off SUP boarding as an activity that’d maybe burn 200 calories an hour. While sure, that’s true for some people, even if you stick to a leisurely pace for an hour, you’re going to burn closer to 400 calories.

If you’re already convinced enough to get started, check out our Recommended Gear pages for product reviews and listings.

Being Outside Means Getting Vitamin D the Natural Way

Our body needs minerals and vitamins for health and survival. Most of the time, you can get these vitamins through your diet. There’s only one vitamin you can also get from sunlight, and that’s vitamin D.

Sure, you can derive vitamin D naturally from foods like egg yolks, cheese, beef liver, fortified soy milk, fortified orange juice, salmon, mackerel, or tuna. You can also take a supplement, but that’s boring! Why not spend some time outside instead?

If you want to potentially avoid developing diseases like multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and some cancers, then you need to get more vitamin D into your life like yesterday.

Okay, so how does the sun give us our source of vitamin D? That’s a good question. When you’re outdoors, the sun’s rays provide the vitamin, which our skin then synthesizes. You can still enjoy the many benefits of vitamin D even if you’re wearing sunblock, so don’t forget the skin protection.

In 2010, a study in the International Journal of Health Sciences (Qassim) found that vitamin D deficiencies are common. By not getting enough vitamin D, you’re at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, the study found.

While it takes a prolonged deficiency to develop the above diseases, in the shorter-term, you could still have health issues. These will manifest in symptoms like sore muscles, hair loss, slower wound healing, feelings of depression (not necessarily clinical depression), pain in the back and bones, exhaustion, and a more frequent rate of infections or illnesses.

Through paddle boarding, you can eliminate the vitamin D deficiency you may have in your life, Further, you can begin enjoying the benefits of this vitamin, of which there are many. These include:

  • Promoting communication between cells and managing the growth of cells. A vitamin D hormone called calcitriol could potentially have an impact on cancer growth speed, preventing cancerous tissue and blood vessels from spreading.
  • Maintaining a woman’s health during her pregnancy. Women who get enough vitamin D may be less likely to have a C-section and develop preeclampsia according to data from Medical News Today. When pregnant women keep their vitamin D consumption on track after giving birth, their children may avoid having food allergies. The women also have a lower likelihood of getting bacterial vaginosis and gestational diabetes mellitus.
  • Improving the health of infants and young children. When babies don’t get enough vitamin D, they’re at a higher risk of developing eczema, atopic dermatitis, asthma, and allergic diseases.
  • Keeping bones in good shape. Vitamin D keeps our phosphorous and calcium levels regulated. Adults can get osteoporosis or a bone-softening condition known as osteomalacia without enough vitamin D. Children may develop rickets in extreme cases.

You Can Eliminate Stress

Stressed? The better question is, who isn’t? While there are lots of everyday stress-busters out there, one that you don’t hear nearly as often is to go paddle boarding.

It does work, though! The beautiful nature around you will begin to soothe your worries and put your problems into perspective for you. As you strive to balance and paddle successfully against moving waters, with the rush of adrenaline comes the release of endorphins. Known as feel-good chemicals, endorphins improve our satisfaction with ourselves. Endorphins can even lessen pain, or at least our ability to feel it, for a temporary period.

By adding those perks together, you get an activity that’s sure to reduce your stress each time you pick up your board and paddle.

Your Body Will Get Stronger

Building bodily strength is something you can absolutely do at the gym, but boy does it take a lot of time. Do you want to work your legs? You have to hit a dozen leg machines. Your arms? Go lift some weights or do machines for stronger, more ripped arms. If you want to focus on your back, your abs, your hips, you have to work out each muscle individually on a bunch of exercise machines.

By the time you’re done, you’ve possibly lost hours and a lot of your energy for the day. Then you have to turn around and do it all again tomorrow. It’s exhausting!

As you surely know by reading this blog, SUP paddle boarding relies on every muscle in your body. Instead of going from one machine to another for hours at a time, you can spend an hour or two doing two things: balancing yourself and paddling on your SUP board. The more you do it, the stronger and more toned your entire body gets.

Your Joints Will Be Healthier

Although it occurs more in older people, joint pain can begin when you’re 18 and anytime after. The most common joint conditions are osteoarthritis and arthritis. When you have stiff joints, you’ll notice your flexibility is not what it once was.

To keep your joints healthy, one thing you can do is ride a paddle board. As you balance your body, you create greater joint support. Particularly, your lower legs and foot joints benefit the most. That’s because standing on your board and balancing yourself is not too different from what athletes would do when getting physical therapy for joint conditions like plantar fasciitis.

That said, we must caution you that, to reap any of the perks of healthier joints, you must know the right paddle boarding techniques. That goes for balancing yourself, standing on your board, and paddling. If you don’t, then you could accidentally weaken your joints while SUP riding, not to mention cause yourself a lot of other pain.

You Can Increase Your Endurance and Stamina

Lots of people want to be the marathon man or woman, but how do you get there? Without stamina and endurance, it can be a huge uphill trek. Both allow you to endure and persevere in difficult situations, such as paddling long distances on your SUP board or riding for several hours at a time. You’ll quickly find your better stamina and endurance translate to other areas of your life as well. For instance, if you enjoy running, you might able to jog longer with the stamina you built up through SUP riding.

That said, you’re not going to have it right away. During your first outing on your paddle board, five minutes will feel like 40. You’ll paddle around a bit and your arms will be on fire. Your core and legs will ache, and not just that day, but when you wake up the next morning, too. You’ll feel winded and ready to get back to dry land immediately.

This is all very normal, so don’t sweat it too much. With any form of athletics, developing the stamina and endurance needed to maintain longer periods of activity comes with repeated practice sessions. As you keep riding, you’ll notice it’s easier to stay out on the water for 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes without exhausting yourself beyond measure.

Before you know it, you’ll have no problem spending 40 to 60 minutes, maybe even longer on your paddle board and still have some energy left to spare. This could translate to even longer riding periods, such as if you’re preparing for a SUP race, or just having the satisfaction of knowing you’ve increased your stamina and endurance through paddle boarding.

You Have Nearly Countless Ways to Change up Your Workout

The first time you went to the gym, you were probably overwhelmed by all the machines you saw, right? There were just so many, and you didn’t even know what all of them did. With time, as you kept going back, you learned most of those machines inside and out. Perhaps you’re even familiar with all of them.

Now, when you exercise, there’s little novelty. With SUP riding, you can hold onto that novelty for much longer. There are many activities you can do on a paddle board besides SUP riding. Let’s go over a few of these now, shall we?

  • Practising your balance by paddling out somewhere and just standing upright
  • Meditation, in which you can connect with your spiritual side while out in the beauty of nature
  • SUP yoga, which presents a whole new challenge for more experienced yogis looking for something new
  • Kneel-down paddle boarding, where you sit on your knees and use your arms to paddle
  • Lie-down paddle boarding, where you lie down on your stomach on your paddle board and again use your arms to paddle
  • Paddle board racing, an endurance sport that requires you to maintain A consistent, fast speed over time

As you can see, if you ever get tired of SUP paddle boarding, you can modify your workout in countless ways until it’s more engaging and interesting for you. And while sure, you can also change up the order in which you do things at the gym, one benefit SUP riding has over the gym? You can always switch your scenery while paddle boarding.

Perhaps you’re feeling a bit tired, so you choose to paddle board on a lake. On the days where you’re craving challenge and adventure, you hit the ocean. No two bodies of water are exactly alike, and on your paddle board, you can explore all sorts of water in your hometown and surrounding neighbourhoods. You might even plan road trips just to go SUP riding somewhere new.

There are no shortage of options for those who get bored of the same old, same old’ while exercising. How’s that for versatility?

You Get a Full-Body Workout

Last but certainly not least is a benefit we’ve touched on a few times already in this article. We also recently wrote a blog post dedicated entirely to it. That is, how many muscles you work when you’re SUP boarding.

Starting from the head down, your shoulders get used constantly as you move your paddle. If kneeling or lying down and paddle boarding, the positioning of your shoulders is essential if you want to keep your head up and gently cradle your neck as you do.

Your arm and hand muscles work hard as well. While SUP riding, you have to hold onto your paddle and move your arms constantly to keep yourself moving. If you’re kneeling or lying down on your paddle board, then your arms become the paddle, which is tough work! Try it for yourself and see.

To stay balanced, your back plays a big role in the equation. The same goes for your core, which, without this strength, the balance would be much more difficult (if not impossible!). You’ll also rely on your legs and feet consistently to keep you standing in strenuous riding conditions.

You’ll work your entire body each time you go paddle boarding then, whether you stand up, kneel, or lie down on your board. To achieve the same at the gym, you’d have to spend hours going from machine to machine, as we’ve said before. That’s a major time commitment you might not have. It’s much better to go paddle boarding instead!

Related Questions

Do you have to wear shoes when paddle boarding?

Unless your paddle board has absolutely no grip at its top (and it really should), there’s no need to wear shoes during paddle boarding. That said, when the temperatures get cooler, your bare feet can get cold fast. In that case, water shoes or boots make sense. The same ones we recommend for other watersports can be used in paddle boarding.

Why do my feet hurt when paddle boarding?

If your ankles or feet ache as you paddle board, it’s probably because you’re pretty new at it. This fatigue affects beginners often as their bodies adjust to the time spent standing still and upright on the board.

We wrote about this before, but you want to make sure you relax your feet and leg muscles as you stand and balance. You don’t want them so relaxed that you fall right off your paddle board, but don’t pull the muscles rigid, either. You can unintentionally flex up and dig your feet in, thinking it will help with your balance.

Practice will make perfect here. As you practice balancing more, you can relax yourself naturally and alleviate a lot of your pain. So hit the water, get fit and, as always, have fun.


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Carlo Raffa

Carlo Raffa is a blogger, stand-up paddleboard enthusiast, water lover and local to Brighton city in the South of England. Paddle boarding is my escape and this is only the starting point. Being a larger guy at 260lbs I am finding it very good exercise as well, especially for building core muscles. This is something that believe it or not cycling 16 miles a day at 6 miles per hour doesn't seem to be doing. Paddle Boarding allows me to just grab my board and walk right through the busy bar filled beachfront between the two piers in Brighton and head straight out of shore. It's not long before the shouting and cheering of our buzzing beach fade into just the lapping waves and the people to just small dots of the Brighton shoreline.

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