by Sue LeBreton
If the thought of exercising outdoors in winter chills you to the bone or your usual routine has you simply going through the motions, try something new and adventurous like rock climbing. Winter is a great time to check out an indoor climbing gym and thanks to the increasing popularity of the sport there are usually facilities in urban areas.
Most facilities offer a drop-in option where they will teach you the basics of safety and before you know it you’ll be scaling the wall like Spiderman. Ok, if you have a fear of heights like I do, you may be clinging to wall that first time out but once you “fall” a time or two and see that you can trust the harness system and your partner on the ground to keep you safe, you will see the fun and sense of accomplishment that this sport offers. It is empowering to face your fears.
The physical benefits of rock climbing are many. “In a nutshell, rock climbing offers a full-body, calorie-burning workout; it’s one of the most calorie-burning activities you can choose. Climbing uses pretty much every muscle in the body while challenging your brain to problem solve and coordinate movements. It also incorporates balance and flexibility, making it a great complete workout,” says Alli Rainey, Professional Climber, Climbing Coach and Certified Personal Trainer.
Do not let worry about the dangers of climbing stop you from trying the sport. “Climbing can be risky and dangerous, just like driving a car,” Rainey says. “The modern equipment is extremely safe if used properly, and the controlled environment of the indoor climbing gym tends to be closely regulated for safety.”
Think you need to have Hulk-like strength to climb? Think again. You do not need much upper body strength to begin, but if you continue, the sport will help you develop muscles in that area. Of course you will need to develop your upper body strength if you hope to become an elite level climber. But for us mere mortals, there are great benefits along the way. One particular benefit climbing offers is increased hand and finger strength, two areas that naturally decline as we age.
Your age need not be a barrier. As long as you have no health issues, check out the wall. Rainey’s father-in-law started climbing at age 63 and at 72 he still enjoys climbing with her and her husband when he visits. “It can help your self-confidence as you grasp what your amazing human body is capable of. It’s never too late to start,” says Rainey.
When we learn something new our brain forms new connections. Try climbing together as a family to benefit both body and mind. Even after the novelty passes, climbing is similar to solving a puzzle as you plot your route. Successful and safe climbing requires two people communicating frequently and working together, making it an ideal way to bond with your spouse, friends or children. Those tweens and teens may only grunt at home but on the wall they must communicate with you to ensure a safe and efficient climb. “Partners work together to come up with solutions to difficult sequences of climbing moves,” says Rainey.
So use the colder weather as a motivator to take your fitness to a higher level by checking out one of the local climbing walls or gyms. Rainey suggests you enter with a beginner’s mind, free of expectations and a positive attitude. “ Have a willingness to learn and to fail and try again. That’s part of the fun and the challenge. I fall every day I climb and I love it because I try to work out how to do the moves without falling.” She says she made it only three feet off the ground her first day. Step into a harness and test yourself on a local wall. Your brain and body will be happy you did.
Sue LeBreton is a health and wellness journalist. She has tried rock climbing several times despite being middle aged and having a great fear of heights. Her tween and teen now climb regularly at a local gym and she’s planning to take lessons to help her scale the walls alongside them.
by Sue LeBreton