Cardiovascular Health & Kayaking: Can Paddling Improve Heart Health?

Cardiovascular Health & Kayaking: Can Paddling Improve Heart Health?

Every year there are over 11 million new cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Europe as a whole, with almost 49 million people suffering from the disease in total. The impact cardiovascular disease has on the EU economy is also staggering, with over 210 billion euros spent each year.

In Ireland, CVD is affecting around 90,000 people and is responsible for over 20,000 hospital admissions per year. These are crazy numbers for such a small part of the world.

Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer worldwide but, incredibly, an estimated 80% of CDV cases including heart disease and stroke, are completely preventable. The strain this disease brings to people’s lives, families, and the economy could be reduced significantly if people understand how to prevent it.

There are several ways a person can mitigate the risk of contracting cardiovascular disease. Keeping fit, staying in shape, reducing alcohol consumption, and eating a balanced diet are just a few. 

In this article, we’ll be looking at how to reduce your chances of contracting a cardiovascular disease by staying in shape and increasing your activity levels in a fun and interesting way. 

Could kayaking improve your heart health and reduce your chances of developing CDV?

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease (or CVD for short) is a generalised term to label conditions affecting the heart and/or blood vessels.

Usually, cardiovascular diseases are associated with the arteries. Problems occur due to fatty deposits inside the arteries that restrict blood flow and increase the risk of clotting. Other problems can occur due to damage to the arteries in certain organs. The most common organs that cause issues are the heart, kidneys, and brain.

As we’ve mentioned, CVD is one of the main causes of death worldwide, but most of the time it can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle by means of staying active and eating the right things. 

There are four main types of cardiovascular disease: Coronary Heart Disease, Strokes & TIAs, Peripheral Arterial Disease, and Aortic Disease. 

This isn’t a scholarly article to educate you in-depth on CVD but we feel you should understand what each type is to get an idea of how you can take steps to prevent future issues.

1. Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease occurs when blood flow is restricted to the heart and/or muscles. 

This can occur due to artery damage or genetic disabilities. However, it is usually due to fatty deposits within the arteries that build up over time due to poor diet and body neglect. 

When the flow of oxygen-rich blood is restricted it can put an increased strain on the heart causing the muscular organ to work harder. This can lead to angina (chest pains caused by a restriction of blood flow), Heart attack (a sudden block of blood flow to the heart), and/or heart failure (when the heart is unable to move blood around the body effectively).

2. Strokes & TIAs

Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is cut off. This is also due to damaged or blocked arteries. Again, 80% of stroke cases are the product of blocked arteries due to poor health and fitness. 

When the blood is cut off from the brain the lack of oxygen can lead to brain damage and in worse cases death.

TIA’s (transient ischaemic attacks) are similar to strokes. This is where the blood flow to the brain is temporarily disrupted due to restricted arteries. You can consider a TIA as a sort of “mini-stroke”.

3. Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is where the blood flow is restricted to the limbs. This can be to the arms or legs but it’s usually the legs. 

PAD can cause cramping leg pain, hair loss on the arms, legs, or feet, numbness and weakness of the limbs, and/or persistent ulcers and sores.

4. Aortic Disease

Aortic Disease is actually a group of conditions affecting the largest blood vessel in the body (the aorta). The aorta is the vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

The most common aortic disease is aortic aneurysm. This is when the aorta becomes weakened and blocked, causing it to bulge outward. This condition doesn’t usually have any noticeable symptoms but it can be fatal. 

If the aneurysm is to bust, it can cause fatal bleeding leading to heart failure and potentially death. 

Again, aortic diseases usually occur due to arterial blockages from fatty deposits that are preventable by simply improving health and fitness.

What Are the Causes of Cardiovascular Disease?

The causes of CVD can vary greatly and are sometimes a little unclear. However, there are several risk factors that increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. 

The more risk factors you have on the list below, the more likely you are to develop CVD of some kind. If you want to mitigate these risks then you can take steps to reduce the number of risk factors you have. Some of these risk factors are unavoidable but many can be mitigated with some simple lifestyle changes and a bit of work.

  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
  • Smoking tobacco
  • High Cholesterol
  • Inactivity
  • Poor diet
  • Diabetes
  • Being Obese or Overweight 
  • Genetic history of CVD in your family
  • Ethnic background (South Asian, African, and Caribean ethnicities are more at risk)

How Can You Take Steps to Prevent CDV?

As mentioned, there are several ways to prevent CVD. By reducing the number of risk factors on the list in the last section you can reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. 

Most of the ways to prevent CVD revolve around positive lifestyle changes. Not only will implementing these changes help mitigate your risk of developing CVD, but they will also make you happier, healthier, and give you the ability to do more with your life. 

  • Implementing a balanced diet
  • Stop smoking (if you do)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do regular cardio activities
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption
  • Keep taking medication if you suffer from blood pressure issues

Could Kayaking Really be the Answer to Improving Heart Health?

If you observe some of the prevention steps above, you will see that exercise and cardiovascular activity are extremely important if you are to reduce your chances of developing CVD. The main causes of cardiovascular issues are obesity, lack of exercise, lack of cardio, and poor diet.

So, kayaking isn’t going to help you with the poor diet situation but it will help you maintain a healthy body weight while keeping fit and doing regular cardio exercise. 

Kayaking is a great way to stay in shape and will help you reduce your risk factors list for CVD. If you’re anything like I am and hate the thought of boring exercise (especially cardio), then you’ll love kayaking.

Kayaking is one of those exercise formats that doesn’t really feel like exercise at all. Instead of dragging yourself off the sofa to sit on a spin bike at the gym bored out of your mind for a couple of hours you’ll find yourself rushing out the door and dragging yourself back inside. 

If you’re overweight and unhealthy but love getting outdoors and exploring, then kayaking is the sport for you. Kayaking is an excellent way to lose weight - burning around 300 calories per hour of unstrained paddling. It’s also a fantastic form of cardio that will get your blood pumping and heart pumping without overstraining or overly exerting yourself. Not only this, but kayaking provides a full-body workout (almost). 

When you’re paddling in a kayak you will, of course, work out your arms, shoulders, and back. However, what you may not realise is that your core and legs will also receive a workout. This is due to the constant stability needed during rowing and balancing on the watercraft. 

By getting out moving on the kayak you’ll start to work your heart harder - moving more blood around the body to the muscles, brain, and limbs. This will reduce your chances of stroke and improve your overall cardiovascular health. You will start to lose weight - putting less strain on your heart. And, as your fitness improves you will also improve your blood pressure, stamina, and heart health.

You can do all of this in a fun way that gets you out on the water enjoying nature at all times of the year. Combine this with a healthy balanced diet and you have a recipe for a happy and healthy lifestyle full of amazing experiences. 

We’re not saying that kayaking is the one and only answer to reducing your chances of cardiovascular disease, but it’s certainly a great way to reduce many risk factors. OF course, everyone has the potential to develop CVD, but people that stay in shape, eat the right foods, and keep their body moving are far less likely to develop it.

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