The Mental and Physical Benefits of Rock Climbing

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I don’t feel healthy”? Have you ever had that exact thought, or one like it, even though you were healthy? And maybe you didn’t really feel like your mind was fit either?

That was me a few years back not long after I broke a knee and spent the better part of a year participating in various low-level rehabilitation activities that weren’t all that interesting to me. You can’t talk a whole lot about walking to your friends before you start putting them to sleep.

After I had mostly recovered from my broken knee I finally got to the point in my life when I knew something had to give. I no longer found walking to be particularly helpful to my recovery and it wasn’t doing a lot for me physically or emotionally. It wasn’t challenging and I didn’t enjoy it enough to be satisfied.

Around this time I went out on a hike with my wife and we found a really cool rock formation that I decided to climb on a whim. It was not hard at all, even for someone like me who hadn’t been a climber and didn’t have any equipment. It was exhilarating and later that week I ended up calling up a local climbing facility in my town to see what kinds of activities they had for beginners like myself.

This is when my life started changing a bit.

Mental Health: The Benefits Of Rock Climbing Extend Far Beyond Strength And Endurance

I started getting excited to exercise and learn a new activity and it changed my whole outlook on life. Because climbing forces you to focus on the task at hand, while also pushing your physical abilities to the max, I was finally able to start clearing my mind of stresses, disappointments, and anxiety. I started feeling better and feeling better about myself too.

I’m not really sure I was depressed before I started rock climbing (or in this case climbing a fake rock wall in town) but my mental state was not vibrant to say the least. When I started focusing on the rock wall it challenged me physically and became an emotional springboard as I enjoyed the activity so much and wanted to get better at it.

The amazing thing is that I never would have pegged myself as a climber. I have no history of rock climbing. I don’t even really know any avid rock climbers but because of that one moment where I found some joy climbing I used it to fuel a new passion in my life.

Rock climbing has really stretched my abilities. When I was a good ways into knee surgery recovery I wasn’t sure if I would ever regain full mobility in my joint. Rock climbing has cemented in me a desire to push my abilities further and not too long after I started working my way up the walls I found my range of motion expanding. Basically I was getting stronger, more flexible, and I started feeling great too. I felt happy.

The physical benefits of rock climbing are easy to see and to understand. Your grip gets stronger. The bigger walls you climb increase your physical and mental endurance. Your heart rate gets elevated in ways I never would have realized prior to climbing, meaning this is an effective way to do moderate cardiovascular exercise without dealing with joint impact. Basically rock climbing makes you stronger and healthier all around – even including the mind.

Everyone has heard at some point or other that exercise is great for one’s mental state of mind. Some studies have shown exercise in general to be better at decreasing depression than antidepressants do. There’s no reasonable argument against these findings and in my experience I’ve found that rock climbing really does workout your mind a lot.

Unlike other forms of exercise rock climbing is a physical test in tandem with a mental test. You don’t just climb; it takes an active mind to decide the best way to ascend a rock wall. At first I just started lumbering up but by learning about my body and how it works I’ve gotten better with analyzing the rock and the grip holds finding the best way to climb it. On the bigger formations I’ve climbed I find that you actually have to stop and really think about how to approach sections of the wall as you go up.

Over my life I’ve never had to think so much while “exercising”. It’s pretty amazing and I’ve found it to be the most enjoyable form of exercise I’ve ever tried.

All this is to say that if you are thinking about working out a bit more (or trying to come up with ways to simply improve your state of mind) rock climbing really did it for me. I wouldn’t have guessed it at first but I certainly wouldn’t go back and do things differently if I could.

Shawna Newman

Shawna currently lives in Las Vegas where she gets in lots of great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. When she has time, she visits National Parks in a quest to visit each one in the U.S. Shawna’s favorite outdoors activity is hiking and her favorite National Park (so far) is Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

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