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Rowing, canoeing, kayaking and your health

Jean Boatman

More than 2 million people paddle in Britain, according to the British Canoe Union.

With its extensive network of waterways, lakes and coastline, the British Isles have a lot to offer canoeists.

Canoeing can be an individual test of speed and ability or a team game. It can be a sociable hobby or a way of escaping the crowds.

'I took to the water in my 60s'

"However you choose to do it, it's a great way of keeping healthy and having fun," says Jean Boatman, a keen canoeist who, at 79, is still a regular on the water.

Canoeing can improve muscle strength and co-ordination, is good for your heart and lungs, and reduces stress. "It is a full body workout," says Jean, from Reading.

With a surname like Boatman you might think Jean was destined to be involved in water sports, but she discovered canoeing later in life.

"It never occurred to me that a housewife with young children could do water sports," she says.

While she may have been a late starter, Jean certainly made up for lost time. When she retired from work in her 60s, Jean took up marathon canoe racing, which initially involved racing a distance of 6km (four miles). She later decided to take part in the 200km (125 miles) Devizes to Westminster race.

After 50 hours of paddling and two stops to sleep, Jean and Gill, who took part as a pair, received a well-earned medal.

Not content with this achievement, at the age of 67, Jean attempted the race again, this time without stopping. She and her canoeing partner Jim completed the race in just 27 hours.

"We were also awarded the trophy for the oldest crew to finish that year," says Jean. "For me this is my greatest personal achievement."

Since then, Jean has overcome breast cancer and managed a 6km (four mile) race just six months after her operation.

"Now here I am at the age of 78, still racing, still having great fun, still making lots of new friends and still part of a wonderfully sociable activity.

"I might be slightly slower than in my 60s, but I am still out paddling all year round and having a great time."

Find out more about canoeing on the British Canoe Union website.

'Rowing helped me manage my diabetes'

Monica Sutton began rowing when she was 58 in an effort to lose weight and control her diabetes.

She'd had no success with diets or the gym, and since she was diagnosed with diabetes in her early 20s, her weight had risen to nearly 127kg (20 stone).

Monica, from Sheffield, says being overweight made her feel uncomfortable, unfit and less confident.

"My life seemed to revolve around trying to lose weight," she says. "Diets and the gym were never far from my mind but they didn't do anything for me. I hated them."

In May 2003, she injured her foot on the treadmill so decided to try the indoor rowing machine as it was non-weight bearing.

"At that time I was approaching 127kg and wearing size 26 dresses," she says. "I was in pretty low spirits."

Losing weight through indoor rowing

Monica found rowing suited her perfectly and soon discovered a competitive side to her personality she never knew she had.

With a supportive coach, she perfected her rowing technique and started training to compete in indoor rowing events in the 50-59 age group.

For Monica, the health benefits of rowing are obvious and she now has no trouble managing her diabetes. Since taking up the sport, she's shed the excess weight, dropping from dress size 26 to size 12.

Rowing offers a complete low-impact body workout. It's a great aerobic alternative to cycling and running, provided you have the correct posture. It's good for the heart and lungs and works the abdomen, back and upper body.

"Many women in their 50s may feel that taking up sport isn't for them. I say find the sport that's right for you, then go for it," says Monica.

Find out more about indoor rowing on the British Rowing website.

Page last reviewed: 24/06/2015

Next review due: 24/06/2017

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

ossiejoe said on 23 February 2010

wELL DONE YOU !!!!!!!

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Steven said on 08 August 2008

Thank you for your comment. The text has been amended. Thanks.

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trouble said on 07 August 2008

I suspect actually she didn't row for 50 hours. Its quite hard to row a kayak. I suspect she paddled. Its still a great achievement

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