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Rock Climbing Might be Effective in Treating Symptoms of Depression

Update Date: Jun 19, 2017 03:26 PM EDT

A University of Arizona study suggests that bouldering, a kind of rock climbing, may also be used to effectively treat symptoms of depression, along with building endurance and reducing stress.

The authors of the study led a team of more than 100 test subjects at a bouldering convention in Germany where some hospitals have begun using rock climbing as a therapeutic treatment. 

Bouldering involves climbing rocks of a moderate height without the use of ropes or a harness. Because of the size of the walls, it is a good way to start climbing or for experienced climbers to practice difficult moves.

A research team divided participants into two groups. One began bouldering immediately, and the second had to wait to start bouldering. Each participant bouldered for three hours a week over the course of eight weeks. The research team then measured the depression of each participant using Beck's Depression Inventory (a psychodynamic self-reporting inventory) and Symptom Checklist 90 (a questionnaire published by Pearson).

The group that began bouldering immediately had improved Beck's Depression scores by 6.27 points, while the waitlisted group's improved by only 1.4 points.

"Bouldering, in many ways, is a positive physical activity...there are different routes for your physical activity level, and there's a social aspect along with the feeling of immediate accomplishment when bouldering," said Stelzer.

During the intervention, participants were also taught to cultivate positive social interactions and learned meditation and mindfulness to help manage their symptoms. Stelzer said bouldering in particular is especially beneficial for the treatment of depression because it boosts self-esteem, has a social component, and has strong mental components. Maybe most importantly, "you have to focus on not falling," Stelzer said. It also builds muscle and endurance while reducing stress.

Luttenberger, a psychometrics expert, said, "Patients enjoyed the bouldering sessions and told us that they benefited greatly. Since rumination is one of the biggest problems for depressed individuals, we had the idea that bouldering could be a good intervention for that."

Given the results of the study, the team believes bouldering may be used in conjunction with traditional care and treatment for clinical depression. The team is working to develop a manual about integrating bouldering and psychotherapeutic interventions for groups. But of course, if you don't like bouldering, Luttenberger says, "I'd always encourage patients to do the sport they like."

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