Rock climbing is a good way to exercise your body through physical exertion, and exercise your brain through logical thinking and problem solving. It’s known that exercise in general is good for a person’s mental health due to various reasons. Climbing has its own particular benefits towards the mental health of an individual. There are a few studies to back this up, which I’ll mention in this article. I feel that most people in the western world have had some sort of mental health issue at some point in life, whether it be a very minor issue or more severe. Personally, I have mild anxiety which comes and goes. I find that climbing helps with my anxiety – if I take a break it seems to flare up more.
So, does climbing help with mental health? Physical activity (which includes climbing) has been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression. Rock climbing has had at least three studies to show that it positively impacts on the mental health of an individual; these studies show climbing improves symptoms of depression, regulates emotional disorders such as bipolar, and helps combat anxiety while increasing your self-confidence. Outdoor climbing can be very peaceful and bring in the added benefit of being close to nature which evidence also shows reduces depression, improves memory, and decreases symptoms of ADHD. If someone is scared of heights, climbing has the added bonus of exposing them to their phobia and helping them get over it. Climbing also teaches a person not to fear failure. It’s a very enjoyable all body workout that can be done in groups or on your own, indoors or outdoors. When you climb in groups you are also adding a social element to your climbing which has been shown to improve overall mental health.
Keep on reading if you want to know more about the mental health benefits of rock climbing.
- Being in Nature when Outdoor Climbing is Great for Mental Health
- Three Studies that Prove Rock Climbing Improves Mental Health
- Specifically Why Does Science Say Rock Climbing is Good for Mental Health?
- The Fear of Heights can be Cured by Rock Climbing
- How Climbing Helps you Overcome the Fear of Failure
- Related Questions
Being in Nature when Outdoor Climbing is Great for Mental Health
Spending time in nature when outdoor climbing can boost your mental and physical wellbeing for various reasons. Of course, we know climbing is a good all-body workout, so when you start climbing outdoors within nature you’ll also find that your mood may improve. Climbing outdoors can be very peaceful due to the lack of noise pollution, which allows you to hear the sounds of wildlife (such as birds) and other parts of nature (such as a nearby stream) in the surrounding area. It’s definitely a lot more relaxing, in my personal opinion, than climbing indoors and I feel that it makes me less stressed and/or angry after an outdoor session.
We also know that mental health is affected by what we put into our bodies, for example if we aren’t eating healthily our mental health will also be affected by this. When we climb outdoors we’re usually breathing in air that’s a lot fresher than that of an indoor gym session and this should therefore help your mind relax more as you’ll be breathing in more oxygen while training.
An empirical study has shown that taking time to notice the natural environment around you improves your personal wellbeing. It involved asking one group of participants to document how nature made them feel over a two week period. When an object in nature (such as a flower) caught their eye, they would write down how it made them feel and take a photo of the object. Another group of participants did the exact same thing but with man-made objects, and another group was chosen to not jot down anything at all. Out of the 395 participants in total and more than 2,500 photos that were submitted, it was shown that noticing objects in nature had the best affect on mental wellbeing.
Three Studies that Prove Rock Climbing Improves Mental Health
For some people, it can be hard to believe that a sport or activity can help improve mental health without scientific evidence to back up the claim. It’s a good thing there’s been scientific studies to show that rock climbing can benefit your mental wellbeing then isn’t it? I’ve found three separate studies that focus on different types of climbing and different mental health problems.
Bouldering can treat symptoms of depression
In 2015, the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg led one of the first formal scientific studies of climbing on people with mental health problems. The study focused around indoor bouldering and how it can be used to treat depression. Once a week for three hours over the course of 8 weeks in total, the study took place. Two groups were assigned to the participants in the study: intervention and waitlist. Those in the intervention group started the bouldering therapy as soon as they had a baseline assessment of their mental health; those in the waitlist group began the bouldering therapy after a usual 8 week treatment. In total, 47 participants were involved in this study and the results showed that after eight weeks of intervention, bouldering therapy had positive effects on depression.
Sport climbing can regulate emotional disorders such as bipolar disorder
A deficit in emotion regulation is what characterizes major depressive disorders such as bipolar, and in 2017, researchers from Germany wanted to find out if rock climbing could have an impact on ‘acute emotion regulating effects in patients with major depression’. The study was controlled and 40 patients with major depressive disorder were assigned to a climbing session or a relaxation session – 20 patients in each. Both positive and negative effects were measured on depressiveness and coping emotions as soon as possible after the session had finished. It was found that rock climbing significantly increased the positive effects and coping emotions whereas the negative effects and depressiveness significantly decreased. The results were much better than that of the relaxation session. Therefore rock climbing is ‘associated with acute emotion regulatory effects’. As this was a controlled study, it was recommended that afterwards it be replicated with a more randomized design.
Sport climbing can help combat anxiety and improve self-confidence
In 2016, a study was conducted to ‘examine the effects of 8 weeks of sport rock climbing (SRC) training on anxiety in healthy sedentary adults’. There were 19 voluntary participants in this study that were split into a ‘control group’ and an ‘experimental group’. The experimental group was taught basic climbing and rope techniques. Once this had been done both groups were measured on their body composition and aerobic power. The experimental group trained top rope climbing 60 minutes a day with an intensity level of 70% of HR reserve, for 3 days a week for 8 weeks. During this time the control group didn’t engage in any physical activity program. It was found that cognitive and somatic anxiety reduced in the experimental group, while self-confidence increased slightly. Cognitive anxiety is the mental aspect of anxiety, whereas somatic anxiety is the physical manifestation of anxiety such as sweating and shaking. Additionally, the VO2 max of the participants in the experimental group was also improved due to sport rock climbing. To conclude, sport rock climbing ‘can be useful as a regular physical activity in controlling and improving anxiety’ while increasing self-confidence.
Specifically Why Does Science Say Rock Climbing is Good for Mental Health?
It has a good social aspect to it
If you go to your local climbing gym, you can go on your own or with friends. The same goes for outdoor climbing. Going with friends when you climb is a very good way to boost your mental health: many studies have shown that spending time with friend benefits many different mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and overall stress. You can also meet new people when you climb, and if you climb on a certain day every week you’ll probably see the same faces there and make a climbing buddy or two over time.
It’s relatively safe, especially indoors
Indoor climbing is padded out with mats that usually take most of the impact when you fall. Climbing is very safe as a recreational hobby if you follow the usual guidelines of making sure you keep an eye on your surroundings and fall properly. Accidents do happen however, but this happens in most sports.
It can bring you into nature
Climbing outdoors can bring you into nature, and as we’ve already mentioned, being in nature is very good for your overall mental health.
If you have a working body, you can probably climb
Do you have 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 feet and 2 hands? Then you’ve most likely got the goods to climb on a rock climbing wall. Most people can climb on a wall, even if it means climbing on the lowest grades at the slowest pace.
It supports cognitive functions such as problem solving
Problem solving is at the forefront of what climbing actually is. It’s like having a mental and physical battle with a wall in front of you. You can be focusing on a problem for a long time just deciphering what way you should or shouldn’t go, where one leg should be compared to another, and what hold you should or shouldn’t grab at a certain point in time. The accomplishment you feel after finishing a hard climb is priceless.
It helps you live in the moment
If you’re focusing on what’s in front of you at that specific time without thinking “what am I going to have for dinner later?” (or something similar), then it’s a very rare time of the day that you’re living in the moment. Living in the moment is a major part of mindfulness which has been shown to be a great treatment towards mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is a meditation technique used to “be in the now”, and has been shown to help improve symptoms of anxiety and other mental ailments. For more information about mindfulness, you should read the book “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh which I highly recommend.
It regulates and stimulates emotions
As we’ve already discussed, one of the studies in the last section showed us how climbing regulates emotions. It can also stimulate emotions such as:
- Accomplishment when you finish a climb
- Happiness due to climbing being a fun activity
- Fear because you’re high off the ground
- Frustration when you can’t complete a climb
- Confidence when you’ve completed many climbs of a certain grade
It improves symptoms of anxiety and self-confidence
As discussed in the last section, a study has shown that symptoms of anxiety and the self-confidence of an individual can be improved by sport rock climbing.
It treats symptoms of depression
In the last section a link was provided to a study which showed bouldering can improve symptoms of depression.
The Fear of Heights can be Cured by Rock Climbing
The fear of heights is also known as acrophobia and – in a milder form – is a very common phobia within human beings. This is because it’s an instinctive reaction to be fearful of falling from high up due to the fact you could injure yourself, or worse you could die. Some people have an extreme fear of heights, which is where the term acrophobia comes in.
Climbing is perfect for those who want to cure their fear of heights and many climbers actually started the activity because they wanted to overcome their acrophobia. Not only is climbing safe because of the mats on the ground, but by introducing yourself to heights you’re uncomfortable with you will slowly get used to them. The best way to do this is in small increments. Psychologists actually say it can make your phobia worse if you put yourself in an extreme situation you are scared of rather than trying to get over your phobia in baby steps. Here’s a method you can use to conquer your fear of heights when climbing. In a nutshell, the method to get over your fear of heights through rock climbing is:
- Climb up the wall until the first point that you feel that you’re slightly afraid.
- Fall from that height using the fall method discussed in the fear of falling article. Hopefully you’ll feel a bit better about falling from that height.
- Repeat this process again and if you still become afraid in the same spot you were afraid of before, keep falling from there until you feel more confident.
- Keep doing this until you reach the top of a 4 meter climb once you find it possible to gain this much confidence without too much anxiety.
Using these steps can help you overcome your fear of heights when climbing. For more information about conquering your fear of heights or fear of falling you can check out another article I wrote by clicking here.
How Climbing Helps you Overcome the Fear of Failure
Failure is very common in climbing, unless of course you aren’t willing to push yourself. If you don’t want to advance grades then you can very happily complete climbs that don’t test your true climbing ability which won’t help you improve.
But most people aren’t like that – human-beings like a sense of progression in most of the activities they take part in, so we’re want to advance when it comes to the climbing grades we’re attempting. This means you will have to fail many times on many different climbs before you can advance. This is normal and you’re going to have to get used to failing… often. Without failure we can’t progress, but learning from the failures we have will lead to success, accomplishment and advancement.
So the real question is, why does a person fear failure when it’s not really failure? It’s just a stepping stone to success. Climbing helps you understand this. If you’ve ever tried a climb around 20 times but on the 21st try you finally complete it, you’ll know that at this point you feel elated. You realise you’ve had to fail 20 times before you can feel that elation. The more you’ve failed beforehand, the better it is when you finally succeed because you know what you’ve had to endure to complete that climb AND you learned something in the process.
How is rock climbing good for you? Rock climbing can be good for your mental health for problems such as depression, ADHD and anxiety. It’s also good for your physical health as it’s an all body workout. Rock climbing is also good for your cardiovascular system.
What are the benefits of climbing? Climbing is an all body workout which improves overall mental and physical health, while stimulating the problem solving areas of the brain. It can be done indoors or outdoors and is a safe recreational activity that can include social interaction with friends. Rock climbing is also fun for many people that try it. People of all ages, heights and sizes can give it a go.