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This surprising sport could help combat anxiety and depression

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Photo: Stocksy/Ryan Tuttle

When you think about rock climbing, chances are you picture harnesses, rock walls, and maybe even that Mount Everest documentary on Netflix—but not about its effects on mental health. But a new study shows that the rugged sport might be effective at alleviating depression and anxiety (a bit of a shock, considering that the idea of falling from extreme heights might make you anxious).

In fact, researchers see potential for bouldering—a form of rock climbing that’s less about scaling walls and more about clambering over actual boulders—as a new complementary treatment for depression, according to the University of Arizona News.

“It does not leave much room to let your mind wander on things that may be going on in your life.”


During the study, the depression levels of 100 volunteers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany were measured before and after they started bouldering for three hours a day, over a period of eight weeks. And on average, there was significant improvement: “Patients enjoyed the bouldering sessions and told us that they benefited greatly,” says Katharina Luttenberger, one of the lead researchers on the study.

In fact, some hospitals in Germany are already using the outdoor sport therapeutically (hey, that’s a major move considering most doctors shy away from prescribing exercise despite its many benefits). So, why is it so effective?

“You have to be mindful and focused on the moment,” says Eva-Maria Stelzer, the other lead researcher “It does not leave much room to let your mind wander on things that may be going on in your life—you have to focus on not falling.”

So basically, your fear of heights can actually work for you, making you finally forget your to-do list—with the added earthy benefit of being outdoors. Forest bathing, you just got some competition.

You could also take some pointers from Miranda Kerr, who swears by 3 mindful habits that helped her overcome depression. And here’s how inflammation in your gut could be connected to mental illness.