There has been a longstanding connection between exercise and mental wellbeing. The connotations and thoughts towards exercise have been shifting from something we ‘have to do’ to something we ‘want to do’. The personal value of exercise for people has altered exponentially, with increasing understanding of the benefits to our wellbeing and the wealth of options available appealing to a broader audience.
“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigour.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Increase in climbing popularity
In recent times, both indoor and outdoor climbing groups have seen a rise in members and people wanting to learn how to integrate the sport into their exercise regime but also adopt it as a way of expanding their social circles.
Recent figures have revealed that, in the UK, around one million people climb independently indoors, with about 10% of them identifying themselves as ‘regulars’. Over half of these climbers are estimated to climb exclusively indoors, offering them the capability to undertake the sport whatever the weather or time of day.
Although many traditionalists may believe that indoor climbing walls go against the heart of the sports, the industry has seen a boom recently, with visits to indoor walls and turnover continuing to grow. It’s important to remember that indoor climbing walls make the sport of climbing, overall more accessible to people of all ages and capabilities whilst remaining in a safe environment.
It is also likely that the quality of inside climbing walls has resulted in an increased interest in the sport. With facilities now improved beyond primitive early iterations, back when some climbing centres were built primarily just to act as training centres for the ‘real thing’ during periods of bad weather and winter.
The now famous, Leeds University traverse, is hailed as the creation which laid the initial foundations for modern walls, swapping out bricks for wood panels and exchanging stones for resin alternatives, the creation drove froward bigger and taller structures which could also accommodate the likes of rope climbing. It also offered an improved capability to train more effectively and organise competitions more regularly.
Mental health benefits
Contrary to popular belief, climbing requires significantly more than upper-body strength. Climbing requires a balance of physical attributes and strength combined with a mindset which allows one to push through physical and mental obstacles.
In addition to the obvious improvements to overall health, agility, flexibility and strength, climbing also involves building problem-solving skills, an element of the activity which is too frequently overlooked. From body awareness to the identifying the path to the top, rock climbing can distract the mind from worries and focus on the activity at hand.
Furthermore, spending time both inside and outside climbing has been recognised to reduce symptoms of ADHD, improve memory function, boost creativity and even have symptoms which have the same effect as caffeine.
For many rock climbers, the activity goes beyond a workout, it’s also a great stress reliever and teaches valuable life lessons. The act itself supports individuals by instilling focus and balance, improving determination and boosting an overall selection of life lessons. Rock climbing is also recognised as boosting empowerment and supporting people in overcoming fears and difficulty by forcing perspective on particular situations.
Studies have even explored the benefits of rock-climbing for children with special needs. Through analysis across a period of six weeks, getting involved in climbing resulted in the children demonstrating a dramatic increase in self-efficiency, further demonstrating the life-changing capabilities of exercise and rock climbing in particular.
Finally, being outside is recognised as offering a significant number of overall health benefits, which include regulating blood pressure, a boost to mental wellbeing and a decrease in risk of serious conditions such as cancer. Moreover, whether you’re getting outside to climb or just taking some time out in nature, you could see a significant improvement in your short-term memory, with those who regularly spend time amongst the trees compared to the city streets, seeing around a 20% improvement in their memory.
Other effects of spending time outdoors include a reduction in the hormone, cortisol, which is the body produces and is used as a marker for stress. When compared to their city-dwelling counterparts, those who regularly spend time in natural surroundings such as woodlands see a benefit from a decrease in heart rate and reduced stress levels.
If you’re feeling dozy on the regular, it could be a combination of problems, however, mental fatigue can be a key culprit and can be battled by exposing yourself to ‘restorative elements’ also known as the great outdoors. When simply looking at images of nature, a study found that the participant’s mental energy bounced back, so from this it’s easy to imagine what the feelings of awe that nature can offer can do for a mental boost.