Shelby Spears by Shelby Spears

It’s a feeling of freedom.

You bend down and reach your hands out onto the long, wide board, feeling its warmth from basking in the sun on a clear summer day. You slowly and carefully slide one leg and then the other onto the board, sensing it wobble as you catch your balance. You assume a comfortable kneeling position, grab the long paddle and push off from the dock.

The nervous butterflies you might have had a few moments ago start to flutter away and the stress of what you did yesterday or what you have to do tomorrow begins to fade. All that’s left now is you and the open water.

This is the beauty of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports in the United States. You can SUP just about anywhere and at any level, from elite level athlete racing to beginner classes and personal instruction at local parks. If there’s a body of water, you’re likely to find a SUP workout class or rental company nearby. Or you can buy or rent your own online or at just about any outdoor recreation store. The recent surge of inflatable paddle boards, which are easier to transport and tend to cater to the novice paddle boarder, is evidence of the growing demand for SUP, according to a study by the market research firm Fact.MR.

As an American Council on Exercise-sponsored study revealed, SUP offers numerous physical benefits, from challenging your balance to engaging your core to upping your endurance and cardiovascular health, depending on the level of exertion and difficulty of the SUP experience.

Aside from the pure joy of being on the water, read on to learn more about the additional benefits of SUP.

SUP Gets You Outside

The mental and physical benefits of being outside and spending time in nature are numerous, from increased concentration and mindfulness to decreased stress. Researchers at the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan concluded that spending 20 minutes outside can reduce levels of cortisol—the body’s main stress-response hormone—by 21%.

Given that the average American spends just 5% of his or her day outside, anything that gets you outdoors is bound to improve your mood and overall well-being.

SUP is Accessible

Stand-up paddleboarding is a great sport for beginners. Finding a calm lake and a reputable group class or one-on-one instruction makes this low-impact sport available for individuals who are getting back to health and fitness.

You can find SUP opportunities just about anywhere. Rivers and ocean water ways offer the challenge of rushing waters and waves, while serene lakes can provide a bit of peace and calm. It doesn’t even have to be summer to SUP. Paddleboarding in the early-morning misty rain can bring about a sense of serenity that is hard to match.

SUP is Fun

Whether you want to challenge yourself and brave some currents or take the time to cruise along a mellow lake and talk with your friends, you’re bound to have a good time. Paddleboard enthusiasts are known to tote young children or their beloved dog on the front of their boards.

SUP Can Help Build Confidence

Humans love novelty. Trying something new sparks a section of the brain that releases dopamine, helping to improve mood, according to multiple studies.

The accessibility of SUP makes it a great new challenge for first-time paddleboarders. And there’s nothing wrong with falling off the board on a hot day. Just be sure to wear sun protection, brush up on your swim skills, wear a life jacket and always SUP with a friend or experienced paddleboard guide.

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