The health benefits of narrowboating
A canal boat holiday is not only huge fun – it is also great for your health.
With so many of us now working desk based jobs in which we are often sedentary for several hours a day in an air conditioned office, a canal holiday is a chance to get outside and get active.
Rather than lying immobile, sweating on a sun lounger all day while knocking back cocktails, a narrowboat cruise offers a health enhancing, rejuvenating way to take a break. As part of a narrowboat crew during your holiday, you will need to help work the locks and bridges, steer and moor up.
The canals provide thousands of miles of beautiful walking, running, cycling, canoeing, kayaking and cruising routes. They essentially offer an amazing, free outdoor gym that stretches the length and breadth of the country.
A canal boat holiday takes you away from the rush of your everyday existence and encourages a steadier, more mindful way of living as you drift past mile upon mile of beautiful countryside – in this way it is as nourishing for your mind as your body.
Here are just some of the health benefits of a canal boat holiday:
There are countless activities to enjoy during a canal boat holiday which will get your pulse rate up. Whether you enjoy running, cycling or perhaps a pleasant walk, all these forms of aerobic exercise will boost your fitness bringing huge benefits to your heart and lungs, which in turn improve your overall health.
The fitter you are, the more efficient your body becomes at absorbing and transporting oxygen to all your cells. Aerobic exercise helps increase the number of blood vessels in your lungs, assisting your ability to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, increases the strength of your heart, increases the number of blood vessels supplying your muscles and increases the number of mitochondria, the energy factories in your cells.
This reduces blood pressure, lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and heart attacks, lowers your heart rate, burns body fat, increases bone mass and boosts your immune system.
So forget the gym – come and enjoy some exercise on the canals.
A canal boat holiday can offer just as good a strength work out as lifting irons in the gym – certainly when it comes to opening and closing the locks and bridges. These big heavy lever systems will test your muscles, particularly if you are climbing or descending a lock ladder requiring repeated opening and closing of the thick wooden lock gates.
Don’t let this put you off as with two people pushing the lock gates, you can make lighter work of it! But it offers great strength training which helps build lean muscle mass – something that often diminishes with age. By building the muscles, strength training also strengthens your bones, improves your balance, coordination and posture, helps burn fat, reduce blood pressure and boost heart health.
Stress has become an epidemic in the UK today and is very damaging to our mental and physical health. A canal boat holiday is a chance to disconnect from your many day to day pressures and live in the moment.
The leisurely nature of canal boat holidays – narrowboats’ maximum speed is 3mph, a healthy walking pace – is very effective in forcing people to mentally slow down. The changing nature of the scenery and need to focus on steering the boat and working the canals means it is a mindful activity which focuses attention on the present, giving people a break from thinking about work or other responsibilities.
Studies have shown that being among nature reduces levels of cortisol, the key stress hormone. It makes sense, we have evolved to be among nature so escaping the frantic urban environment and returning to our more natural habitat is good for us. The canals of England and Wales will take you on a tranquil journey through miles of unspoilt countryside teeming with wildlife, enabling your mind to quietly take in the green surroundings and let any stress slowly ebb away. Since stress has many knock on effects on other aspects of health, this can lead to further benefits such as lowering bad cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and regulating blood sugar.
Holidays tend to put us in a good mood initially but if they have involved too much lying around, eating and drinking, they can leave us feeling low and drained by the time we return to work.
A canal boat holiday however, can leave you feeling energised and positive in a longer term, more sustainable way that should see you return to work with a smile. This is because it is a naturally healthy holiday that boosts wellbeing and thus mood.
Exercise in all forms triggers the release of endorphins – your body’s natural feel good chemicals – while being among nature has also been shown to lift our mood. Then there is the natural release of stress and tension that a canal boat holiday encourages.
Lastly, a canal boat holiday involves an element of learning as our team teaches you the rudiments of how to control, steer and moor a narrowboat as well as the rules and etiquette of the canals – the ‘Waterway Code’. Research has shown that learning new skills improves mental wellbeing by boosting confidence and self-esteem, offering a sense of purpose and helping connect you with others. Continual learning throughout life also helps keep the brain sharp as like a muscle, it needs to be worked to stay fit.
All this combined means that canal boat holidays are a wonderfully enjoyable way to do something good for yourself. As many lifestyle related chronic health problems are on the rise, there has never been a better time to take a healthy holiday. So, if you haven’t already tried it, make 2020 the year you experience the joy of a canal boat holiday and come back glowing with health and happiness.
Tags: Anglo Welsh, barge, canal holidays, Great Outdoors, health, luxury, nature, walking, Waterways