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Climbing for Mental Health

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

Wednesday 10th October 2018 marks World Mental Health Day.

Mental health awareness and support within the workplace is important to everybody at NOVO, and this is reflected in our consideration for occupants’ wellbeing and happiness within our designs, as well as within our own office space, with open and judgement-free channels of communication and regular, varied social activities.

Cameron Nelson, CAD & Revit Manager at NOVO, has organised the most recent activity. To highlight World Mental Health Day, he invited the NOVO Team to join him at the Climbing Depot in Pudsey. Cameron has been climbing for over a decade and believes the sport to be profoundly beneficial to one’s mental health.

In the below article, Cameron explores the importance of open mental health discussion, of supporting one another, and of channelling negative feelings into positive physical achievement.


"Mental health, just like your physical health, needs to be looked after. Good mental health allows us to think, feel and react in a way that is necessary to live your life in the way that you want to.  Sometimes we go through periods of poor mental health, thus we find ourselves struggling to think and feel the way we would like to, and at times it can become impossible to cope.

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year. This can range from common issues such as depression, stress and anxiety, to more complicated conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health is still very commonplace. This is particularly true for men, who are often encouraged to ‘suck it up’ or ‘man up’ when it comes to these issues.

After 10 years of rock climbing, 5 of which I have also taught climbing,  I thought it would be time to push forth the idea of how climbing (particularly bouldering) can benefit us physically, and mentally.

So, what is bouldering?

Bouldering is rock climbing stripped down to the essentials. Leaving behind the ropes and harness, using just a pair of climbing shoes and a bag of chalk over safety mats.  The challenge is to climb short but tricky bouldering “problems” (a route, or sequence of moves) using balance, technique, strength, and your brain.  You don’t need experience or lots of expensive kit to have a go – making it easy to get into if you’ve never tried it before.

The climbs are high enough to be exciting, but not so high that they’re intimidating. Using safety mats means that the risks of falling off can be managed and leaving the ropes behind means that you are free to concentrate on the climbing, not the equipment. It’s just you, the wall, and your friends on the ground egging you on.

One good thing about bouldering is how social it is. Due to the fact there aren’t any ropes about to limit the number of people on a section of wall, you will often get several people working a tricky problem together. This often involves one person having a go, then lots of chat on the ground as everyone discusses how they would have done it better, before they have even tried (and possibly failed!) themselves.  Even if you turn up to the wall on your own, chances are you’ll end up talking to a few people you’ve never met before during your session and swap some tips or tricks. You’ll get to know the regulars, and the hard core climbers we all envy as they make the problem you’ve been sweating over for hours look like climbing a set of stairs!

Bouldering is a great physical workout, using muscles all over your body – not just your arms. Core strength is a real focus, as is flexibility. But unlike some other forms of exercise, it’s so much fun you might not notice that you’ve had a big workout – until you wake up the next day! If you want to see what regular climbing could do for your physique.

It also takes a bit of thinking, as often brute force alone won’t be enough to get you to the top. You’ll need to think about how to solve the various bouldering problems, try some different techniques and methods out, and hopefully eventually crack it. This makes a bouldering session totally absorbing, making you forget about your stresses and leaving your mind clear and refreshed at the end of it all.

If you’re new to the sport, you’ll find that you make big improvements in your climbing ability after only a few sessions, as you use and tone those rarely used muscles. Breaking into the harder grades takes a bit longer, but by that stage you’ll be hooked!

The first hurdle is for people to find the motivation to get out of bed / there house and exercise.  Once they have achieved this they are half way there.

Everyone will experience fear, anxiety and panic when climbing. This is not a bad thing.  We learn from it. We learn how to manage these feelings and overcome them in other areas of our lives.

There is an element of trust, in yourself your body and others. This allows us to acknowledge and accept our own limits, accept help from others and learn to handle the emotions that come with it.  The feeling of an immediate accomplishment by trying something new, something that you may never have thought of trying.

After a long day at work, my mind becomes clear and relaxed when climbing. Compared to running, for instance, climbing requires you to focus on the present moment and thus I can’t think about what I accomplished today, what is on my to do list etc. Since rumination is one of the biggest problems for depressed individuals, bouldering could be a good intervention for individuals suffering from depression.

Existing research suggests that depressed individuals benefit from physical activity. Evidence-based exercise programs associated with improved depressive scores include walking/running, aerobics, cycling, muscle strengthening, and stretching. Compared to these forms of exercise, bouldering combines aspects of mindfulness and physical activation – both components already proven to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms. As mentioned above, bouldering requires individuals to be present in the moment and thus takes their mind off their ongoing worries."


At the Depot, the NOVO Team split into two and faced a number of challenges, teaching us the importance of teamwork, perseverance and supporting one another. Some had never climbed before, some had little experience, and some took on the tougher challenges. We finished with a curry together over the road to celebrate!

Main body of article by Cameron Nelson. Edited and published by Louise Marshall.


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