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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

Revolutionize Your Summer Fitness with This Adventurous Water Workout


Hey there, sun seekers! The season of summer is here, calling us to step out of our shells and into the wonder of the great outdoors. It's a time where we can mix things up and dive into new adventures that keep our bodies moving, our minds refreshed, and our spirits connected to the stunning beauty that nature provides. One of my favorite activities that checks all the boxes is stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP as it's more fondly called.


The roots of SUP trace back to the age-old Hawaiian tradition of "Hoe he'e nalu," once used for transportation and catching waves. Fast forward to the present day, and it's morphed into an adaptable and dynamic activity loved by many.


As a physical therapist, I'm all for fitness that's not just functional, but enjoyable too. And I can tell you, nothing beats the thrill and satisfaction that comes from a SUP session! It's one of my go-to summer activities, and every year, I eagerly anticipate those magical moments out on the water.


In what follows, I'll be lifting the lid on the science-backed health benefits of SUP, and uncover why this sport is a fantastic investment for your wellbeing.


Remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The first wealth is health." So, let's seize this opportunity to enhance our health while basking in the joy of a summer filled with fun and SUP!



two woman paddleboarding on lake with mountains in the backbround

TABLE OF CONTENTS:



 

What is Stand-Up Paddle Boarding?


For those of you who might be new to the SUP scene, let me paint you a picture. Imagine you're on a board, much like a surfboard, only more stable, and you're armed with a long paddle to help you weave your way through bodies of water. It could be a serene lake, a flowing river, or even the vast expanse of the ocean - the choice is yours and any one of them can be your adventure playground!


What makes stand-up paddle boarding a standout is the unique mix of physical challenge, balance mastery, and soul-soothing tranquility. This activity recruits and reinforces every muscle in your body, testing your core strength, boosting your upper body power, and honing your lower body stability. But SUP isn't just another workout routine to check off your list; it's an oasis of calm amidst the daily hustle, offering you a tranquil retreat and letting you reconnect with the therapeutic allure of Mother Nature.


woman paddleboarding in the ocean

Benefits of Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)


Numerous studies have explored the benefits of stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), revealing its effectiveness as a total body workout with additional mental health benefits! I love the unique combination of paddling, balancing, and propelling oneself through the water, engaging nearly all muscles in your body. Lets explore some research backed benefits.


1. Increased Strength and Fitness


Don't let the leisurely vibe of SUP fool you. Beneath the fun-filled, sun-soaked experience lies a comprehensive fitness routine backed by solid scientific research. This activity provides a thorough full-body workout that targets your core, upper, and lower body muscles, yielding beneficial changes in body composition.


As featured in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, one study delved into the muscular demands of SUP and found it to be a full-on body engagement affair. The act of paddling gives your arms, shoulders, and back a proper workout, while the balance and stability required on the board activate your core and leg muscles.


But the benefits of SUP don't stop there. It also contributes to a more favorable body composition by effectively strengthening your muscles. A piece of research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health linked regular SUP training to a significant drop in body fat percentage and a boost in lean muscle mass. In other words, SUP doesn't just sculpt your muscles but also helps trim the fat, leading to a healthier body composition.


SUP transcends being a mere sport; it's a lifestyle shift towards improved health and wellbeing. It's an enticing fitness choice that keeps on giving. As often echoed by the SUP community, "Paddle for fitness, paddle for health, paddle for life." So why not catch the wave of this fitness trend and see where it takes you? Remember, as Greek philosopher Socrates once said,

"No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."

man paddleboarding

2. Enhanced Cardiovascular Fitness


SUP is also great for our cardiovascular health. Research has found SUP to incite a moderate-intensity cardiovascular response. In simpler terms, while you're out there gliding across the water, your heart rate climbs to a level that's ideal for enhancing cardiovascular fitness. Generally, aerobic exercise can be divided into 3 categories:

Low-Intensity

Moderate-Intensity

High-Intensity

WHAT?

Does not significantly raise your heart rate, can be sustained for long periods.

Heart rate to 50-70% of your max HR. Increased work of breathing but may be able to hold a conversation.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) or sprinting. HR to 70-85% of your max. Can not be sustained for very long.

BENEFITS

Improves overall health, enhances mobility, can aid in recovery after intense workouts, reduces stress

Boosts cardiovascular health, burns more calories than low-intensity, reduces risk of many chronic diseases, enhances mood, improves sleep

Burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time, improves cardiovascular and respiratory health, enhances athletic performance, can improve insulin sensitivity

ENERGY SOURCE

Fat

Balance of fats and carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

By continually challenging your heart to work a little harder and encouraging better blood flow, SUP is doing wonders for your body that extend beyond surface-level fitness. In addition to the numerous benefits it offers, it's important to remember that regular aerobic exercise is highly recommended for overall health. The American Heart Association suggests engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.


So while you're enjoying this fun-filled activity, know that every paddle stroke you take on your SUP board is not only bringing you joy but also contributing to a stronger heart and a healthier life.


"Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." Jim Rohn

woman performing a headstand on a paddleboard

3. Improved Balance and Stability


Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is also a hidden gem for improving your balance, stability, and core strength (something that becomes so important as we age!) As you navigate the board over the dancing water, you're given a full-body workout that not only challenges your strength but also hones your proprioception - the awareness of where your body is in space.


In the world of SUP, your body is always adjusting to maintain balance on the shifting water surface. This balancing act requires constant engagement from your core and stabilizer muscles, which in turn leads to improved body control and coordination that can be beneficial in everyday life.


As you become more proficient in SUP, you'll start to encounter a variety of water conditions, like crosswinds or small waves. Navigating through these conditions enhances your balance and stability even further, teaching you to adapt and react to changing environments - a skill that's valuable on and off the board.


Research backs up the balance-boosting power of SUP. A study in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that regular SUP practice significantly improved balance control and postural stability, especially in older adults. Research has also suggested that the unstable nature of paddleboarding helps strengthen the core muscles, vital for balance and stability. Plus, SUP training even outperformed traditional land-based balance training when it comes to enhancing dynamic balance, according to the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.


So, whether you're aiming for better balance, stronger core, or enhanced stability, SUP provides a fun and effective platform for achieving your fitness goals.



4. Mental Health Benefits


While extensive research specifically focusing on the mental health benefits of SUP is limited, numerous studies have highlighted the positive effects of outdoor activities, exercise, and mindfulness on our mental well-being. Merely being on the water and connecting with nature can have a profound impact on mental health and overall psychological well-being.


SUP has been found to reduce stress levels and induce a sense of relaxation. The serene ambiance of the water, the rhythmic motion of paddling, and the immersive experience of being in nature work harmoniously to alleviate stress and promote relaxation during SUP sessions. I can personally attest to this feeling.


Engaging in mindfulness and being fully present in the moment are central to a SUP session. Balancing on the board, moving in sync with the paddle, and immersing oneself in the natural beauty of the surroundings can enhance mindfulness and create a sense of flow, further contributing to an elevated sense of well-being.


Furthermore, spending time in nature has been associated with improved mental health outcomes, including reduced psychological distress and enhanced well-being. SUP provides individuals with an opportunity to immerse themselves in these natural surroundings, establishing a peaceful connection with nature that positively impacts mental health.


a couple each on their own paddle boards wrestling


5. Uses in Rehabilitation and Therapy


A collection of studies has started to shed light on the potential of SUP as a tool in rehabilitation and therapy contexts. Given SUP's low-impact characteristics and its capacity to stimulate multiple muscle groups, it proves to be an excellent choice for those in recovery from injuries or those engaged in physical therapy. There are records of SUP being used therapeutically for a broad spectrum of conditions, from musculoskeletal and neurological disorders to mental health issues, and as a physical therapist myself I can see why!


In the realm of musculoskeletal rehabilitation, SUP has demonstrated immense potential. There's evidence of its effectiveness in enhancing core stability, balance, and postural control – elements crucial for recovery post-injury or surgery. SUP provides a platform for individuals to engage their muscles and joints in a controlled yet supportive setting, fostering functional movement patterns and aiding the healing process.


When it comes to neurological rehabilitation, SUP offers unique avenues for motor learning and sensory integration. The ceaseless balancing adjustments help stimulate the neuromuscular system and augment proprioception and body awareness. It can also be adjusted to accommodate a range of neurological conditions, offering a challenging but enjoyable activity that supports the development of motor skills and functional progress.


So, SUP isn't merely a summer pastime – it's a powerful, holistic, and fun tool in the world of physical rehabilitation and therapy!


So this summer, I invite you to step on a paddleboard, push off from the shore, and paddle into a world of health, tranquility, and rejuvenation. As Vincent Van Gogh once said, "I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream." So, dream your journey to wellness and paint it with the strokes of your paddle. Happy SUP-ing!



 

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REFERENCES:


Castañeda-Babarro, Arkaitz, Eneko Balerdi, and Patxi León-Guereño. "Analysis of Stand-up Paddle Boarding: A systematic review." Retos: Nuevas Perspectivas de Educación Física, Deporte y Recreación 44 (2022).


Osti, Fabiana Rodrigues, Caroline Ribeiro de Souza, and Luis Augusto Teixeira. "Improvement of balance stability in older individuals by on-water training." Journal of aging and physical activity 26.2 (2018): 222-226.


Ruess, Christian, et al. "Activity of trunk and leg muscles during Stand Up Paddle Surfing." Procedia Engineering 60 (2013): 57-61.


Ruess, Christian, et al. "Stand up paddle surfing-an aerobic workout and balance training." Procedia Engineering 60 (2013): 62-66.


Schram, B., Hing, W. & Climstein, M. The physiological, musculoskeletal and psychological effects of stand up paddle boarding. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil8, 32 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-016-0057-6



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