Mental Health: Rock Climbing Your Way Out of Depression

  • Rock climbing has both physical perks and mental health benefits.
  • Studies have shown that engaging in climbing can help with mental health issues like depression.
  • Carolyn Wynn is an example of a person who overcame life problems and depression with the help of climbing.

According to Pete Rohleder, a kinesiologist at Georgia State University, climbing has another aspect aside from cardiovascular and strength training and that is in regard to mental health.

“That perceptual or cognitive aspect — the decision-making, the planning, the strategizing — puts a unique physical and mental challenge on the climber,” Rohleder said.

There have been studies that bouldering—climbing walls that are low enough so there is no need for safety ropes—has a measurable impact on self-reported depression scores. This follows the long-known fact that physical activity has proven to help serve as a remedy for various mental health issues.

A study which came out this year says that bouldering can be a “significant predictor for reduced depressive symptoms.” It involved dividing people with depression into two groups. The first engaged in climbing, while the second had light physical activity while maintaining other treatment plans. The study showed that compared to those who didn’t climb, those who did showed more improvements in areas like “phobic anxiety and passive coping.”

The authors of the study write that bouldering has “subjectively threatening situations, demanding focused attention and mindfulness. Its mastery appears to be associated with feelings of self-efficacy and internal locus of control.”


Carolyn Wynn was one of the people who discovered how climbing could improve her mental health and help turn her life around. She was doing quite well career-wise, though she was stressed from a job that sometimes needed 80-hour workweeks, had a demanding boss and was generally unhappy.

In 2014, she went on an outing to a rock-climbing gym to “cheer up one of my friends.” Wynn said, “That first day, I climbed out of my depression.”

Photo by Eric Sanman from Pexels

After an initial schedule of going to the indoor rock-climbing gym weekly, she started going two to three times a week. Six months ago, the 46-year-old took a job at Atlanta Rocks as a part-time instructor. This let her maintain her career as a corporate strategist, but with much less stress.

Wynn says that in the climbing gym, she sees other people working out the same problems she had before.

“When you have depression, you have a fear: fear of worthlessness, fear of not being enough. Climbing pulls you out of that.”

People who don’t want to come down or get stuck at the top of the wall may have some competitive or control issues. Novice climbers usually worry about failure, even when the presence of safety ropes would keep them from falling more than a few feet. Sometimes, people who find that their lives have crumbled outside the gym return to climb the wall to put themselves together again.

Wynn likens climbing the walls to overcoming problems and challenges you may have in your life.

Source: CNN

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