Try your hand at a watersport

A couple with surf boards

Water-based exercise is an effective and fun way to keep fit. But we’re not just talking about swimming or water aerobics. Bupa physiotherapist Katherine Cran explains the benefits watersports can have when it comes to both our physical and mental health.

The benefits of water-based exercise

Exercising in water is great for your health and I recommend it to all ages. It’s also suitable for those with or without an injury. The resistance of water is fantastic for bone health and strengthening your muscles. This is because activity in the water involves movement of all your major muscles groups, such as your legs, buttocks, shoulders and arms, with minimal impact on your joints.

Water-based exercise is also great aerobic (cardio) exercise. In fact, swimmers have about half the risk of premature death compared with people who are inactive. People also report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land, so it’s not just beneficial for your physical health, but your mental health too.

But don’t just think ‘swimming’ when it comes to water. There are plenty of watersports and water-based activities you can try out this summer (and even into the autumn and winter with the right gear).

And the true beauty of these sports is all around you. Water-based activities will take you to beautiful spots – beaches, lakes and coastlines. Being out on the water can also have a truly calming effect, helping you unwind from the stresses of your day.

Water skiing and wakeboarding

A man wakeboarding

Both water skiing and wakeboarding are great at strengthening your muscles, as well as developing your balance and core strength. Your core muscles include your abdominal muscles, back muscles and the muscles around your pelvis. These sports are easy on your joints, but you’ll still burn calories by using many different muscle groups.

Try it. You don’t need to own a boat or even live by the coast to try water skiing or wakeboarding. There are lakes and clubs all around the country that can offer a taster of these sports.

Canoeing and kayaking

Two people in a canoe on the water

Canoeing and kayaking are great low-impact watersports, working muscles in your back, arms, shoulders and chest as you paddle. You’ll also burn calories with an aerobic workout. Canoeing and kayaking can have a meditative effect if you’re paddling in calm waters, so are great for your mental wellbeing too.

Try it. It’s very likely that a canoeing or kayaking club is near you, whether you’re by the coast or a lake. It’s also a great way to explore coastlines and lakes that you wouldn’t be able to get to by foot. If you’re venturing off on holiday this summer, make a pledge to try something new – look out for canoeing or kayaking, and other watersports, available close to where you’re staying.

Paddle boarding

A person paddle-boarding as the sun sets

Paddle boarding, also known as stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP), has gained popularity in recent years. An offshoot of surfing, paddle boarding gives a total body workout, which can be done on flat water (a calm sea or lake) or in the surf.

The need for balance and stability engages your core muscles continuously, as well as the muscles in your legs and buttocks. To power through the water with the paddle requires arm, back and core strength. Paddle boarding is one of the calmer watersports available, so is great for unwinding and improving your mental wellbeing as you explore your surroundings at a slower pace.

Try it. Why not book a lesson at a local paddle boarding club? Even if you don’t live by the beach, stand-up paddle boarding is perfect to try on a lake or calm river. Look online for your local clubs.

As much as watersports are fun and great exercise, remember that they can be dangerous, especially if you’re not experienced at the sport. Make sure you visit a recognised club or activity centre that has qualified instructors and safety support.

Don’t take it from us...

We asked a few people to tell us their reasons for doing watersports and what benefits they gain from being out on the water.

Lucy, aged 30

“I do wakeboarding, wakesurfing, paddle boarding and SUP yoga. I find them really refreshing. There’s something about being on or in the water that’s so fun, exhilarating and relaxing all at the same time. I get to mentally escape the chaos of daily life and focus on something else, while getting fit. That’s the other thing, it is exercise, but I don’t see it as exercise, because it’s so much fun. Muscles ache that I didn’t know existed!”

Tom, aged 33

“I wakeboard once or twice a week if I can, not only for my physical health, but to get outside, release some stress and switch off from my busy working life. It’s revitalising and energising, and I feel like I’ve had a full body workout afterwards.”

Lee, aged 28 (professional wakeboarder)

“I love the constant flow of the wave. It makes me feel very connected to nature with the beautiful surroundings of the lake.”

Even healthy people become unwell sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

What would you like us to write about?


The Bupa knee clinic

An icon of a human bone or joint

If you have injured your knee or have a long-term knee problem, the Bupa knee clinic can help you find the information and support you need.