Today is National Stress Awareness Day, and this got us thinking – we talk a lot about the benefits of bouldering for physical health, but what about how the sport can improve our mental health?
To the average person who has never tried rock climbing, scaling a high wall or rock face might sound like a stressful and scary experience – but speak to any regular boulderer and you’ll probably find they say that the adventurous sport actually helps relieve their stress.
But why exactly this is, we couldn’t entirely put our finger on – other than many years of personal experience! So, we took inspiration from today’s awareness day to look into why exactly bouldering, in particular, is so unexpectedly good for stress relief! Here’s what we found out…
The science-y stuff
Let’s start with the basics. If so many of us climbers feel that bouldering reduces our stress levels, there must be some kind of biological reason why this is the case – right?
Well, the science seems to say so! Any kind of exercise is effective in reducing stress because it increases our levels of norepinephrine, a chemical in the brain that helps us respond quickly to reduce stress. This is why, if you’ve ever suffered from extended periods of stress or conditions like anxiety and depression, medical practitioners might have recommended you to take regular exercise to help combat it.
However, some research shows that bouldering, in particular, could have an edge on other kinds of exercise for stress reduction. According to the University of Indiana, sports that allow participants to completely “lose themselves” in their activity can cause us to enter into a state of euphoria, even blocking off our pain receptors!
Bouldering is one such activity they list as allowing participants to temporarily transcend stressors.
Building rational problem-solving and resilience
It’s not only temporary relief from stress that bouldering can offer, though. One of the main reasons why regular bouldering sessions can contribute to reduced stress – besides being a form of exercise – is because it develops our mental problem-solving skills.
Bouldering requires careful analysis in order to succeed – climbers must judge how they can best complete a “problem” (route) using elements such as reach, flexibility, strength and dynamic movement. Each move has to be calculated, and for best results, one must plan their route ahead of time, whilst responding to developments while on the wall.
This makes us better at rational problem-solving in general, which can be very useful for reducing the stress caused by our day-to-day worries.
Whilst the nerves of climbing, and the adrenaline it stimulates, can form a kind of stressor, bouldering helps us to practice dealing with stressors such as fear, frustration and physical exertion, thus strengthening our mental capacities to do so in other areas of life.
New studies using bouldering to treat depression
Perhaps most interestingly of all, bouldering is now being trialled as a tool to treat depression and other mental illnesses.
A recent study by the University of Arizona and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg enrolled over 100 people in a “bouldering intervention” in Germany. The participants were randomly split into two groups, one of which immediately began the bouldering programme, while the other waited to begin bouldering. Each individual climbed for three hours per week over eight weeks, while the scientists measured their depression symptoms.
Amazingly, the team found that those who took the immediate bouldering intervention saw depression “scores” improving by on average 6.27 points – which indicates an improvement from “moderate depression” grade to “mild depression” grade. Over just two months!
Researcher on the project, Eva-Maria Stelzer, said that bouldering is so positive for mental health because:
“There are different routes for your physical activity level, and there’s a social aspect along with the feeling of an immediate accomplishment when bouldering. You have to be mindful and focused on the moment. It does not leave much room to let your mind wander on things that may be going on in your life — you have to focus on not falling.”
The study was so successful, in fact, that rock climbing is now being envisioned as a form of psychotherapy for patients with mental health conditions!
Need a quick fix? Try outdoor bouldering
Of course, there’s another kind of climbing that can also provide additional benefits. If you’re in real need of a mood boost, why not try a session of outdoor bouldering?
It has been proven that time spent in the great outdoors can contribute to lower stress levels, due to exposure to serotonin-inducing vitamin D (from sunshine), and fresh air. In fact, research has suggested that time spent outside may reduce symptoms of ADHD, improve memory function and wake up the brain even more than drinking a cup of coffee!
So now we all know exactly why bouldering makes us feel so great and helps reduce our stress! And, if you haven’t tried bouldering in North Devon before, this is all the more reason to give it a go!
If you fancy trying out bouldering – whether as a stress-buster or just a bit of fun – why not come along to our boulder introduction workshops on Sundays 4-5 pm and Tuesdays 7-8 pm? For just £10 you can enjoy an hour of guided bouldering with our expert instructors. Or, to have a go on the ropes, too, book a 1.5-hour climbing taster session – split across roped climbing and bouldering – for just £15!
For more info, just give us a call on 01769 309 003.