Pretty bold claim, right?
Well, as it turns out, perhaps not…
The positive impacts of sport and exercise with regard to one’s mental health are well documented. Conditions like anxiety and depression, for example, often occur as a result of serotonin imbalances, and regular exercise has been shown to increase levels of serotonin in the long-term.
And then there is the social aspect of sport.
Many people struggling with their mental health and wellbeing suffer from long periods of isolation and loneliness. Sport, aside from its positive effects on the body, can in fact provide an outlet to regularly meet likeminded people, without the pressure of a strictly “social” situation, like meeting friends in a bar, for example.
However, with these potential benefits, there are also some drawbacks…
Most significantly, you may be wondering which sport is best for me?
Many people are intimidated by gyms and the perceived toxic masculinity of such settings. Similarly, team sports, while great for providing the community and social outlet for sufferers of mental health issues, often come across as a large commitment occurring on a weekly basis. As you can imagine, this isn’t great for someone with unpredictable bouts of anxiety.
This is why we believe that climbing is one of the best sports to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Here’s five reasons why:
Perfect for entry level, intermediate, and advanced climbers.
Climbing walls and clubs up and down the country offer programmes for the beginner, the moderate climber, and the cliff-face enthusiast.
Bouldering is particularly good for beginners and social climbers. This form of the sport focuses more on the difficulty of the climb, rather than the height. Therefore, little equipment is needed aside from climbing shoes and some chalk for the hands (both of which can be rented in almost all indoor climbing facilities).
Because of the nature of climbing (you may have to wait a couple of minutes for someone to finish a route you want to climb), the community is particularly supportive. Climbers go it alone, team up, or support each other spontaneously while they wait. As such, etiquette is essential, and the overriding atmosphere is often a friendly and inclusive one, regardless of ability.
Even better, is the fact that climbing is relatively cheap. Entry to an indoor facility usually is priced around £6-12, which may include shoe rental, and allows you access to all walls for an unlimited period of time.
Climbing is available all year round
Sure, if you have a group of climbers and you are experienced enough, climbing outdoors is great. It’s a way of connecting with others, developing teamwork, and above anything else, enjoying the outdoors.
However, when it rains or the weather is consistently bad, climbers need to find somewhere else.
Thanks to the rising popularity of the sport, there has been an explosion in the number of indoor climbing facilities. Estimates believe there are more than 4,100 dedicated climbing facilities in the UK and Ireland alone.
In short, this means that there should be a facility in your immediate area, meaning you can climb regardless of the weather.
This is even better for sufferers of conditions like depression, who often are affected most by bad weather in Winter, through the lack of motivation to get outside. This, of course, increases the likelihood of loneliness and isolation.
Having a space you can rely on, that is friendly and exclusive as well as an outlet for exercise, can prove crucial in improving mental health during such months.
Climbing can be as social as you please
Climbing can just as easily be completed on one’s own, with friends, or spontaneously with a group of strangers.
In an indoor facility, everyone climbs different sections of the same wall. This means, invariably, you make social connections with other climbers, no matter how fleeting these may be. The demographics of climbing are also fantastically varied, across age, gender and social boundaries.
Because there is no, one “type of person” who climbs, you are bound to bump into new people while traversing the wall (though hopefully not literally).
Climbing is based around tangible goals
Part of the appeal of climbing for many are the goals that climbers can set themselves while scaling a wall.
You quickly figure out which routes you find easy, and which are more difficult. Once you have found your level, it’s a matter of pushing yourself to complete those tricky routes that have evaded you in the past.
In most indoor facilities, different routes are colour coded according to difficulty, so you can see, week by week, the improvements you are making.
What’s more, if you find one week that you are close to completing a wall but can’t quite reach the top, you have discovered a new goal to aim for.
This goal-oriented structure is fantastic for people suffering from a lack of direction in their lives, as is often reported by sufferers of loneliness and anxiety.
The metaphor of climbing
The holistic aspect of climbing – what it means for us personally, as well as how it improves our social and physical health – is also important.
Climbing is literally the process of striving upwards to achieve self-set goals and targets.
If this sounds a little cliché and cheesy, that’s because it is… But there is an important point to be had here.
Repeated psychological studies in application to wellbeing and fitness have found that self-conception is a crucial factor in how likely people are to engage in fitness activities, and with the social world in general.
If an individual who previously struggled with depression and low self-esteem now views themselves as “someone who climbs”, and has that structure of setting themselves new goals on a weekly basis, then the studies show that their confidence, overall feelings of positivity, and wellbeing are significantly improved.
Of course, at the bottom of all of this is how friendly, supportive, and inclusive the climbing community is, making it more likely that people will take up the sport.
It is safe to suggest, then, that while you are scaling the wall, you are also building yourself up, mentally, physically, and socially.