As we face uncertain times – coronavirus, political instability, climate change – looking after our mental health has never been more important. There are many activities that can help you enjoy life in lockdown. Studies have shown that physical activity can play a role in treating depression, relieving anxiety and promoting general wellbeing. So where does rock climbing fit into the picture?
While there are countless studies on the positive benefits of aerobic exercise, only a few have focused on climbing. In 2015, the University Hospital in Erlangen, Germany, measured the effects of climbing—particularly indoor bouldering—on people who suffered from depression. Half of the participants undertook the trial while the other half acted as a control group. After 16 weeks, researchers found that those who climbed regularly felt the greatest improvement in their symptoms.
This isn’t surprising. Like other forms of exercise, rock climbing triggers the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which can boost your mood. That’s probably why organisations like ClimbAidand Sacred Rok have started using rock climbing to help refugees and at-risk youth deal with trauma and displacement.
But the treatment of trauma and depression is not the only benefit to be reaped from this popular endurance sport. Here are five ways that rock climbing can improve your mental health.
1. Social interaction
Unlike cycling or swimming, rock climbing is a group sport. You can’t do it alone. You need to work with others to grow your skills and meet your goals. But it’s not about competing against others. It’s about working together to establish trust, share meaningful experiences and build friendships that can last a lifetime.
Reaching a rock-climbing goal can give you a feeling of achievement. When you repeat this experience, it fosters a mastery mindset. This can have a profound effect and set you up for success in life. If you’re someone who is stuck, or you feel that your goals are unachievable, rock climbing has the potential to turn things around. By providing focus, purpose and a sense of accomplishment, you too can develop a mastery mindset!
3. Connection with Nature
Rock climbing gets you into the thick of nature. You can feel the wind in your hair, the rustle of trees, the sturdy rock beneath your feet. Research shows that spending time in nature can reduce blood pressure, strengthen your immune system and elevate your mood. And let’s not forget the sense of awe and wonder you experience when you take in those spectacular views!
4. Flow State
A flow state occurs when you’re absorbed in a task and lose all sense of time and place. It’s when you’re fully in the moment. Rock climbers often describe it as ‘being in the zone’. So is it so important? According to Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow states occur when we’re engrossed in a challenging task that tests and rewards our efforts. This leads to what is described as ‘optimal experience’. In other words, flow states make us happy!
5. Testing Your Limits
Climbing isn’t easy. It takes strength and perseverance to scale a rock face. But this is the beauty of it. Rock climbing trains you to push past your physical and psychological limits. Not only does it set you up for successful climbs in the future, it gives you the tools to tackle other challenges in life. If you can handle rock climbing, the rest should be a cakewalk!
Do Kids Get the Same Benefits from Rock Climbing?
Absolutely! There’s no reason why kids can’t enjoy the same mental health benefits as adults. In fact, the earlier they learn to rock climb, the sooner they can reap the rewards. Here are some reasons why your kids should take up rock climbing today.
1. Physical Activity
We all know that kids have plenty of energy to burn – and rock climbing will give them a full body workout. Unlike sports that focus on speed, rock climbing will build skills like co-ordination, strength and flexibility. And you don’t have to worry about leaving any of the kids at home. There are climbing levels to suit all ages and abilities!
2. Improved Concentration
Rock climbing requires focus, which is why it’s perfect for children who have trouble concentrating. The goal of climbing a wall not only focuses their attention, but it gives them a sense of accomplishment. With ongoing practice, their focus will improve and you’ll see benefits in other aspects of their life.
Not all kids are suited to competitive sports. This is why rock climbing is a great alternative for shy or non-sporty kids. It provides physical activity without having to join a competitive sports team. While there is a social element to rock climbing, it’s always supportive and collaborative, and the only person they’ll compete against is themselves.
Contrary to what many people think, rock climbing is one of the safest sports you can take up if you follow the right protocol. It can be an excellent option for people with an adventurous spirit yet have physical conditions that make other forms of adventure dangerous. Mild forms of epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders are a great example of this. In fact, rock climbing can be a fantastic addition to holistic treatmentprograms for many conditions. There are harnesses and safety precautions that make climbing easy and risk-free. Children like to climb and explore at the best of times, so why not let them do it in a safe, fun and controlled environment?
5. Family Activity
While it can be challenging to motivate yourself and your family to exercise, rock climbing is a fun way to keep fit and bond as a family. You can build skills together and support each other’s climbing goals. It’s one of the few sports where people of different ages and abilities can participate and have fun.