“Always gonna be an uphill battle; sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.” Love them or hate them, these lyrics from Miley Cyrus’s 2009 hit “The Climb” represent both the sport itself, and the trials and tribulations it can help you cope with. With the addition of the sport to the 2020 Olympics, and the increase in climbing-related films to popular streaming services, including Netflix’s Dawn Wall and Amazon Prime’s Free Solo, it is unsurprising that the popularity of bouldering has grown in recent years.

 Although most climbers featured in well-known documentaries are men, it is important to break away from the misconception that women cannot be successful within the sport. Boulder Brighton, an indoor climbing centre located a stone’s throw away from Portslade station, is working to welcome more women with their weekly socials. On Monday evenings, the centre offers a “friendly and supportive” session led by a member of staff and tailored towards women. Additionally, Boulder Brighton hosts a session on Tuesdays for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ society, demonstrating the inclusivity of the sport. In my experience, the only discomfort you will experience is wearing the climbing shoes!

As well as being unprejudiced in terms of who can take part, bouldering has a number of physical and emotional benefits. James Gomez, an employee of Boulder Brighton, advocates climbing in order to help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. “It’s one of those all-absorbing activities that can clear your mind of whatever else is going on in your life and leave you in a great mood when you’re done,” he states. This claim is echoed by a 2015 study from Luttenberger et al., which found that bouldering (alongside medication) can effectively treat depression. In fact, several psychiatric wards in Germany have begun to use rock climbing as a therapeutic approach. 

I have first-hand experience of the benefits of bouldering on mental health. Since childhood, I suffered with symptoms of depression and anxiety, which led to my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder at nineteen. Whilst other forms of exercise also boost oxytocin, I found that I could still mull over difficulties or put myself down when running or swimming. This is not the case with bouldering, as it requires a heightened level of focus – leaving no space for worrying.

What’s more, rock climbing is a somewhat unique sport in that it can be done both individually or with friends. Unlike with team sports, such as football or rugby, it’s not uncommon to see indoor climbers with just their headphones for company. On the other (chalky) hand, it can be great to climb with a friend, or seek advice from a more experienced climber to progress more quickly. 

Bech’s 2004 research on climbing actually suggested that bouldering can improve social skills, as it lends itself to constant communication with the person supervising from the ground. Gomez advocates taking advantage of the social nature of bouldering, stating that “it can be really fun to work climbs out together.” The sport also benefits the cognitive domain; a 2015 study found that a two hour climbing session boosted working memory capacity. Gomez agrees with this, arguing that one of the biggest benefits of bouldering is that it helps improve decision-making skills. “Bouldering is a mix of problem-solving, balance, coordination and strength,” he says. “You need to work on all of them to make progress.”

Obviously, climbing can also improve physical health. In 2022, I was diagnosed with Sinus Tachycardia, a faster-than-normal resting heart rate. As a result, I find it difficult to engage in high-intensity cardio workouts. Bouldering is therefore perfect for me, as it has not caused me painful palpitations, and has actually, over time, helped with bringing down my resting heart rate. It is also a sport in which my hypermobility is in fact an asset, rather than a hindrance, as it makes it easier to reach certain holds.

Overall, climbing has given me great friendships and a clearer mind, which I am very grateful for considering my mountain of upcoming deadlines – almost as difficult as Everest to tackle. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, I would recommend attending Boulder Brighton and taking advantage of their student discount while you still can!

Photo by yns plt on Unsplash

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