Research Shows Bouldering Is a Cure for Anxiety and Depression

New Research from Eva-Maria Stelzer of the University of Arizona, in Tucson, touts bouldering for health benefits that go far beyond promoting agility and rock-solid muscles. The study, which was presented last week at the 29th Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention in Boston, found that bouldering can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, the most common mental disorders in the country.

"Bouldering, in many ways, is a positive physical activity," Stelzer said in a report from Medical News Today. "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."

For the study, Stelzer and her team assessed the effects of bouldering on more than 100 adults who suffer from depression. Participants were divided into two groups: one that began incorporating bouldering into their routine immediately, and one that had to wait to begin the activity. According to the data, both groups took part in bouldering for three hours per week for eight weeks, and the majority of participants were new to the sport.

Throughout the study, Stelzer and her team periodically assessed the participants’ depressive symptoms using the Beck's Depression Inventory and the Symptom Check List Revised. The group that began bouldering sooner experienced a 6.27-point improvement in Beck's Depression scores, while the group that waited to boulder showed a 1.4-point improvement. By the scale’s measurement, this means that the first group’s depression alleviated from moderate to mild after getting out on the walls.

The researchers credit the concentration and need for present action as the key to bouldering’s ability to erase the symptoms of depression such as sadness, a feeling of emptiness, fatigue, problems concentrating, guilt, and thoughts of suicide or death. "You have to be mindful and focused on the moment. It does not leave much room to let your mind wonder on things that may be going on in your life — you have to focus on not falling," Stelzer said.

The researchers leading the study are encouraging doctors and those with depression to utilize bouldering and other forms of physical recreation as a necessary component to treatment plans for mental health. “I’d always encourage patients to do the sport they like, whether it's climbing or something else, as sport is a wonderful possibility to prevent all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical,” wrote study co-leader Katharina Luttenberger.