Most of us do not have a river or the ocean in our backyard or a kayak and accessories waiting on the shore. Unless you do, kayaking requires a little more advance planning than many sports. Taking the time is well worth it.

"Kayaking is a great sport for connecting with nature," says Oliver Fix, the 1996 Olympic men's kayak champion. Being on the water "provides an excellent environment for mental relaxation and physical challenge," Fix adds.

Consider making kayaking part of a backpacking trip, nature excursion, or adventure vacation, and you will see things you would never see on foot, in a car, or from a train. Your options are almost limitless. "There's whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, paddling in Canadian Lakes, or for that matter, anywhere in the world," Fix enthuses.

If the call of the wild is not enough to get you to trek to the nearest body of water and paddle away, consider the fact that kayaking provides a unique upper body strength and aerobic workout that nothing you do at home can match. "Kayaking provides tremendous stimulation to your lower back and abdominal muscles," says Richard Cotton, an executive wellness coach. "It also works your upper back, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and forearms."

Increased Strength

Cotton says you can get great strength benefits and build your anaerobic capacity by doing interval training in a kayak—going hard for one minute, then relaxing for two to three minutes, then going hard again. "Athletes training for kayaking competition do a lot of intervals," he adds.

Aerobic Power

In addition to building upper body strength, kayaking is "a fabulous aerobic workout," Cotton says. "It doesn't burn quite as many calories as running or cross-country skiing, but your heart gets a great workout and it's probably something you will really enjoy doing." Kayaking at a moderate pace burns about the same calories per hour as moderate swimming or slow jogging—around 300 calories for a 130 pound female and 400 calories for a 170 pound male. Not many sports offer such a great combination aerobic and strength workout.

Balancing Upper and Lower Body Exercise

"Kayaking is an excellent cross-training modality," Cotton attests, "especially for runners, who often have great legs and wimpy arms." Fix agrees. He says that kayaking is a great alternative to conventional fitness training, which focuses mainly on the lower body. "For people with knee problems, kayaking takes an unhealthy stress off and allows them to challenge themselves and increase their fitness levels."