Rock climbing is a great way to build muscle, sharpen your concentration, and increase endurance all while enjoying some time in the outdoors. But bouldering—a type of rock climbing that’s done on rocky outcroppings close to the ground (20′ high or less) with no ropes or harnesses—has been shown, in a study presented at the recent Association for Psychological Science meeting, to help heal the mind along with strengthening the body.
University of Arizona and University of Erlangen researchers performed a study that looked at more than 100 people split into two groups, one that started climbing immediately, and another that had to wait to begin the vertical treatment. Both groups ended up bouldering for three hours a week over the eight-week study period, with scientists periodically checking the levels of depression in participants using psychological check lists.
They found that the score on the tests for those who started climbing therapy at the beginning was equal to moving from a diagnosis of moderate to mild depression, compared to those who didn’t start immediately. “Bouldering, in many ways, is a positive physical activity,” said study co-author Eva-Maria Stelzer, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona. “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.”
Study authors also mentioned that when climbing you have to be mindful and focused on the moment, so it’s harder for your mind to wander and dwell on negative things in your life—the main goal is to not fall. Bouldering can not only strengthen the mind, but relative simplicity allows it to be accessible to people of different levels of physical health, and the socialness of the sport can break the isolation that often plagues depressed people.