Access to indoor climbing gyms has become more widespread, and so, too, has interest in the benefits of the sport. Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany studied the impact of indoor climbing on depression.
The 24-week study involved 100 individuals who were assigned to either a group that began bouldering right away or a “waiting” group. Bouldering involves climbing walls no higher than 20 feet without the assistance of ropes or harnesses. The bouldering group climbed for 3 hours per week for 8 weeks. All participants received guidance on meditation, mindfulness and how to develop positive social interactions. Depression scores were determined based on Beck’s Depression Inventory and the Symptom Checklist Revised.
During the 8 weeks, the bouldering group’s scores improved by 6.27 points, and the waiting group’s scores improved by 1.4 points.
Lead researcher Eva-Maria Stelzer observed that one reason why bouldering might benefit individuals with depression is that it requires complete focus to avoid falling. This doesn’t allow for deep analysis about what’s happening in one’s life, she says.
“Bouldering not only has strong mental components, but it is accessible at different levels so that people of all levels of physical health are able to participate,” she said. “And there’s a social aspect along with the feeling of an immediate accomplishment when bouldering.”
Stelzer shared these findings at the 29th annual Association for Psychological Science Convention, held in Boston in May.