Why climbing is great for mental health


Minneapolis Bouldering Project

Indoor rock climbing has emerged as a popular recreational activity in addition to being a competitive sport recently added to the Summer Olympics. Initially, indoor climbing was a way for outdoor climbers to train when conditions were poor, but now, with more than 700 commercial climbing facilities across the U.S. and thousands worldwide, it has become a phenomenon.

According to research, it has vast mental health benefits. Pete Rohleder, a kinesiologist at Georgia State University, says “That perceptual or cognitive aspect – the decision-making, the planning, the strategizing – puts a unique physical and mental challenge on the climber.” The challenges “reinforce those neural pathways that can enhance our movement, enhance our cognitive function and make it much easier to attain goals,” Rohleder said.

In fact, “bouldering routes,” typically marked by hold color or sometimes tape, are called “problems” (as in “Do you want to get on that green problem over there?”). Many people assume that climbing is a purely physical sport, all about grip strength and the ability to pull. However, this is far from the truth. The intended sequence of body movement— where, how, and when you move your body parts, is called beta and is hugely important. Problems can be solved with complex techniques like hooking your toes and heels, jamming your knees, hanging upside down from your feet, and looping your leg through your arm.

The climbing community is like no other, where everybody is welcoming and encouraging, cheering each other up the wall and discussing how to solve these problems.

Likely, many of these initially crazy-sounding aspects of climbing are part of the appeal, as you can quickly find joy in solving these fun puzzles involving just your body and the features of the wall. A 2018 study by Heliyon, a journal covering research in a large variety of fields, showed that “participants of bouldering psychotherapy were significantly more likely to reduce their depressive symptoms than participants of the control group.” Additionally, climbing with others enhances the entire experience. The climbing community is like no other, where everybody is welcoming and encouraging, cheering each other up the wall and discussing how to solve these problems.

Even on the simplest level, joining the climbing community is a joyful experience. Take Minneapolis Bouldering Project or Vertical Endeavors Twin Cities Bouldering, for example— highly modern facilities where colorful holds jut out from the walls in 3D awesomeness. These facilities are great examples of the hip phenomenon that climbing has become— containing yoga studios, fitness centers and classes, climbing teams for youth and adults, block parties, competitions, and more.

At SPA, climbing has a strong presence as a decent number of students compete in the sport, some at a very high level, while many have indeed been to a climbing gym sometime or other. Thus, the collective student body should give climbing a try, whether just for fun or as a more coordinated method of improving mental health. Gyms in the twin cities metro area include four Vertical Endeavors climbing gyms and Minneapolis Bouldering Project.

Who knows, climbing could become your thing.