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Too often physical fitness is regarded purely as a quality of the body itself. Focus is on building muscle, increasing endurance, burning fat and losing weight. However, when we consider our body as a whole we must also consider our mind: our brainpower, emotional stability, stress and anxiety, and how these factors impact our overall well-being. While its great when our gym or workout routines make us sweat, we would all benefit as well from activities that challenge our mind as a muscle, such as rock climbing. In addition to its many fitness benefits, rock climbing also has the ability to exercise your brain and make you more confident, more perceptive, and more relaxed. Read on to see just how rock climbing is making you smarter.
Let's face it, rock climbing is kinda scary. You're ascending a wall or a cliff face using only your own body, reaching heights that would definitely hurt if you fell from them, with a rope and harness being the only safety measure you have. Fear is a big factor that a lot of people have to overcome in life, but addressing those fears head on, such as the fear of heights or falling when it comes to climbing, is a huge component of improving confidence and self-reliance. "If someone is facing a fear of falling or a fear of heights, then rock climbing is the best place to exercise the limits of those fears," says Dina Liberatore, Climbing Director of the Chicago Athletic Clubs. "From working with people who deal with these fears, my understanding is that the more you face the fear the easier it is to deal with every time."
Having the opportunity in a safe and regulated environment to try something and fail, and then get right back up and try again is one of the great aspects of climbing as a sport. Learning from and building on the choices you make from one climb to the next strengthens confidence in your own abilities and self-sufficiency. Not to mention the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you actually make it to the top. "The gratification that a new climber feels when they reach the top of the wall their first time is insurmountable," shares Liberatore. And you won't be the only one celebrating, because rock climbing is a sport that really brings people together. "As an instructor of kids and adults it can be so fun to observe each individual's different experience with the sport," says Liberatore. "Everyone interacts with climbing in different ways and for different reasons, but in the end the community that is built around the sport is such a supportive one."
"The thing that comes to my mind when you use the word smart in terms of rock climbing is the level of problem solving that occurs in the body to get from one hold to the next," says Liberatore. "It’s a constant cause and effect of what actions will lead to the success of the next." Its true, rock climbing is really a mental puzzle. You are forced to utilize a variety of skill sets in the moment to find the most efficient and effective way to complete every move in a route sequence to get to the top. Spatial awareness, planning ahead, balance, concentration - all of these factors are constantly informing your next move and require focus and perception. "Climbers are constantly challenging themselves mentally, physically and even emotionally," explains Liberatore. Challenging your powers of perception in unfamiliar ways helps to build new neural connections in your brain, keeping your mind sharp and active.
Also, the challenge of fighting through physical fatigue reinforces your will-power and your awareness of how to conserve energy and be physically efficient. But energy isn't all about muscles, it's also about perception. "Rock climbing is a great exercise of patience," Liberatore explains. "It’s a slow sport at times, and because the successes and short comings are so visual it’s easy to fall into a negative mind set." Learning to fight through the mental fatigue is just as challenging, and ultimately just as rewarding.
We have all heard about the benefits of "being in the moment", but also find that is often easier said than done. Being present in the moment is a daily challenge in our fast paced world of distractions, media and technology vying for every second of attention that we may have to give. Rock climbing, on the other hand, is a sport that really physically requires you to slow down and be present with your body, because one moment of not paying attention can mean you fall off the wall and have to start over. This is one of the reasons that rock climbing as a sport can be so addictive: it allows you to be one with the wall and in the moment, and can really feel to a lot of climbers like a meditation. Since your only competition is yourself as you go from one move to the next, it allows for self-reflection, focus and a strong mind-body connection. Turns out there's nothing like a little height to help bring you down to earth.
"As [climbers] get stronger, more efficient, and braver they also desire to encounter the limits of their strength, efficiency and fear so they can continue to push themselves." says Dina Liberatore. "I have been a climber for ten years and a climbing instructor for two and half...I love the sport and I think that everyone should have access to it." So why don't you give it a shot? Get a one day climbing guest pass and try it out. Feel the benefits in both your mind and your body after the very first ascent.