Bouldering, a form of rock climbing, may not only help you build muscle and endurance, but also effectively treat symptoms of depression, a new study claims. The study by researchers, including those from the University of Arizona (UA) in the US, involved over 100 people in a bouldering intervention in Germany, where some hospitals have begun to use climbing as a therapeutic treatment.
The participants were randomly split into two groups. One immediately began the intervention, while the other group had to wait to start bouldering, which involves climbing rocks or walls to a moderate height without ropes or a harness. Each participant bouldered for three hours a week over the course of eight weeks.
The team measured the depression of group members at different points in the study using the Beck’s Depression Inventory, the most widely used instrument for detecting depression. Researchers found that during the therapy, the immediate intervention group’s Beck’s Depression scores improved by 6.27 points, but for the same time period the group that was initially wait-listed improved by only 1.4 points. This drop in score reflects an improvement of one severity grade from moderate to mild depression levels.
“Bouldering, in many ways, is a positive physical activity,” said UA researcher Eva-Maria Stelzer. “There are different routes for your physical activity level, and there is a social aspect along with the feeling of an immediate accomplishment when bouldering,” said Stelzer. Depression is a severe illness. It is one of the most common mental disorders in the US and worldwide.
Even though a variety of treatment options exist, less than one-third of people receive treatment for their symptoms, Stelzer said. For the study, most of the patients involved were new to bouldering. Also during the study, both groups were taught about how to cultivate positive social interactions and about meditation and mindfulness throughout the study.
Stelzer explained that bouldering has a number of other important characteristics that make it especially beneficial for the treatment of depression, namely that it helps boost self-efficacy and social interactions – both of which hold innate benefits for dealing with depression.
“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.