Good News: Getting On the River is Good for Your Health


Money can’t buy happiness…but a whitewater rafting trip can.

A study by the Great Outdoors Lab has confirmed what we already know; spending time in nature has tremendous positive impacts on our health. For those who are lucky enough to have their lives revolve around outdoor pursuits, the study is just scientific justification for prioritizing recreation. But for others, the impacts of it are significant.

“Those of us who lead trips into the outdoors for veterans and youth from underserved communities know that getting outside improves both mental and physical health,” says Rob Vessels, Director of Sierra Club Military Outdoors.

It’s official: Spending time on the river is beneficial to your health!

Published in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion, the study focused specifically on the impacts that a whitewater rafting trip had on participants that identified as military veterans, at-risk youth, or college students. Scientists of the Great Outdoors Lab quantified their results by measuring the neuroendocrine of participants on the rafting trip, as well as facial analysis from Go-Pro video footage. Based on their findings, the lab drew a positive correlation between participants experiencing the whitewater trip and their general life satisfaction and mental and physical health.

Running a business that facilitates time spent on the river, Peter Van De Carr of Backdoor Sports in Steamboat Springs, Colo., can surely vouch for the results. “What I love most about my job is that the rate of satisfaction of customers is over 99 percent,” says Van De Carr, whose services include offering rafting and tubing trips on the Yampa River outside his backdoor. “Always dealing with happy people coming off the river is what makes my job the best job in the world.”

For some, this information may seem self evident, but it is studies such as these that not only initiate the necessary shift towards outdoor therapy as a relevant healing mechanism but also hopefully get more folks out on the river.

The work by the Great Outdoors Lab is supported by their partnership with Sierra Club Outdoors, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and REI. View the full study here.