5 Surprising Ways Rock Climbing Improves Mental Health

In today’s society, it’s increasingly more important to find a way to be proactive about your mental health. Climbing is a great way to do that. There can be a number of reasons why someone starts climbing. For some, it’s about the exercise, and for others, it's a great mental challenge or a way to make new friends. In this article, we’ll explore 5 ways that climbing can improve mental health. 

1. Physical Activity and Mental Health

We all know that exercise is good for you. Research points to the fact that exercise is not only good for the body, but also the brain. 

  • During exercise, endorphins are released which lead to stress reduction and improved wellbeing. Endorphins are the “feel-good” hormones that are released during pleasurable activities. Other ways to boost these levels are through doing things like art, volunteering, music, or anything else that makes you feel good - including climbing. Climbing is unique in that it’s a multifaceted sport, enabling you to nourish and exercise the body, mind, and soul. 

2. Cognitive Benefit

1. Problem-solving skills
  • Rock climbing involves a great deal of planning and strategizing. Route reading is an important part of climbing a route successfully. Analyzing and solving the problem can help you anticipate challenges, as well as learn to adapt to changing circumstances you face on the wall. 
2. Improved focus and concentration
    • Climbing can teach you to stay present and mindful. On the wall, you can only focus on one thing at a time, forcing you to be in the here and now, no matter what. This is a great exercise for your brain on how to be more present in everyday life. Naturally, your attention span will be enhanced through practicing mindfulness. 
    3. Memory enhancement
      • A big part of climbing has to do with your memory and cognitive challenges. Remembering routes and techniques can be tricky at first, but with time and increasing difficulty, your brain will start to remember more. Furthermore, cognitive challenges of different climbing types and styles positively affect your neuroplasticity.

      3. Emotional and Psychological Benefits

      1. Builds self-esteem and confidence
        • Climbing is inherently risky, but also inherently rewarding. Over time, with consistent climbing, you’ll start to see changes not only in your body composition, but in your brain as well. Overcoming fear and challenges is incredibly gratifying, and it constantly pushes you to be your best self.
        2. Stress relief and relaxation
          • Climbing is like a meditative dance. It incorporates aspects of both strenuous training and more calming exercises like yoga. Climbing ingrains mindfulness and relaxes the brain, especially when done out in nature. 
          3. Resilience and coping mechanisms
            • You will deal with successes as well as setbacks in climbing. Achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself can boost your confidence, and will also teach you to deal with failures. Climbing helps with learning persistence and determination to overcome challenges. 

            "I like that climbing is a form of meditation. It allows me to tune out distractions and be present in the moment." - Lynn Hill

            4. Social Benefits

            1. Community and support
              • The sport of climbing will naturally help you build friendships and connections with fellow climbers. You are bound to meet like-minded people that develop into friends. Climbing is also known for its supportive culture and sense of camaraderie among athletes.
              2. Teamwork and communication
                • Teamwork and communication skills are essential and will develop with time as well. You will find that climbing isn’t all that possible or fun to do alone. You need climbing/belay partners that you can trust and collaborate with. 

                5. Therapeutic Uses of Rock Climbing

                Practical Tips for Maximizing Mental Health Benefits

                1. Make sure you set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). Setting realistic and achievable goals is key to seeing progress both physically and mentally. 

                2. Try incorporating mindfulness practices into climbing sessions.
                Mindfulness is the practice of being present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings. Yoga and other mindfulness exercises are great tools to learn and train the brain to be more mindful, which is especially helpful for climbing and improving mental health.

                3. Balancing climbing with rest and self-care
                is equally as important as exercise itself. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and getting help when needed. 
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