Outdoor Activities to Boost your Mental Health

Spending time outdoors in nature increases your emotional and psychological well-being. The beneficial effects of enjoying nature and fresh air are so good for your mental health that it is being prescribed by mental health practitioners and clinicians as a positive therapeutic tool.

While fresh air and exercise is no replacement for therapy or medical intervention, numerous studies have shown that being one with nature and the elements simply makes us feel better. The positive effects of a single exposure to nature – for example, a walk, a run or a stint in the garden – can last for seven hours after an individual has experienced it! It is also very enjoyable.

Walking away those blues!

Walking is one of the best ways to change your mood from blue to better. And feeling better is a great starting point! Studies of regular walkers have shown increased brain function, increased stamina and a flow of the good feeling hormones, serotonin and melatonin that also boosts your endorphins. Endorphins are a neurochemical that boosts your mental health, decreases your sensitivity to stress and pain, and can even make you feel euphoric or in an improved mood. A study in the Lancet medical journal found that people who exercised on a regular basis (including easy and gentle walking) had less self-reported “bad” mental health days, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all. Walking gets the blood flowing, the heart rate increasing and helps to de-stress in times of trouble. In older people, staying active by gentle walking can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

We can presume that this is true too for the younger walker too. Walking is free and on your doorstep. Choose a pretty part of the world to walk your worries away. Luckily, Ireland is abundant in great parks, beaches, woods or mountain trails within easy access. Ask a friend to join you in making full use of these amenities and in walking your way to feeling happier. And of course all walking will help you to get physically healthier too, so it’s a win-win plan. Invest in some good walking shoes and suitable wet gear so that the positivity is not reduced by soggy weather or blistered toes.

The sea, Oh the sea!

To be beside the sea is a boost to your mood.
A study carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), found that those living along the sea coast were shown to have a lower risk of depression. This was attributed to greater physical activity and social interaction associated with the area but it also concluded that those lucky enough to have regular sea views were deemed to be at the lowest risk of suffering depression. For some people, it is not enough just to view the waves. They want to jump right in. Wild swimming has become one of Ireland’s most popular outdoor activities. Wild swimming groups and clubs are meeting all over the country at sea piers and mountain lakes to take the plunge together. Wild swimming often means diving into freezing water in isolated spots and can be described as absolute madness by those with a less adventurous spirit. However, there is a scientific basis, as well as a level of craziness, to diving in cold water.

A group of Berlin researchers observed a wild swimming group who regularly swam in ice-cold water during the winter. They discovered “a drastic decrease in plasma uric acid concentration” amid participants, both during and after cold water exposure. This resulted in an increased tolerance to stress, according to the findings. Cold water swimmers have also reported improved immune system, better circulation and increased libido, but the emotional benefits are reportedly amazing as pain of plunging into bitterly cold water is rewarded with a tsunami of endorphins. Being immersed in cold water for 15 minutes decreases the heart rate by almost 10%, reducing blood pressure and leading to a calming effect. After that you feel uplifted and happy.

Climbing the Walls!

It’s a daunting activity. It takes courage and a certain degree of skill. Rock climbing is a fast growing sport in Ireland and it is absolutely brilliant for your overall mental health. In the same way as any mindful activity slows down the chattering brain and focuses the mind on the important job in hand, rock climbing is a positive learning experience. It teaches patience while strengthening your mind body co-ordination and it puts life in perspective. Perhaps hanging off a craggy rock on a Saturday afternoon will do that! There are lots of indoor wall climbing facilities to begin your journey, or you might consider joining a club.

In 2017, a research study assessed 40 participants on the mental health benefits of rock climbing. Half the group participated in a single two-and-a-half hour indoor sport climbing session and the other half had a relaxation therapy session. Immediately after the activities, the researchers measured positive and negative effects, using depression and coping with emotions indexes. The results indicated that the climbing group reaped more significant benefits in terms of regulations of emotions and feel good factors, when compared to the second group. The benefits of climbing are so documented and practiced that it now has its own name. Boulder therapy. Call it whatever you like, there is no doubt that literally climbing the walls brings its own healthy feelings and is uplifting on all fronts.

There is no doubt that nature, fresh air and time spent out of doors gives our mental health a positive boost. It is free and it can be a social or a solitary experience. Given all these findings and a dose of nature might indeed be what the doctor ordered.

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Climbing the walls for fitness sake!

The rising popularity of Ireland’s indoor climbing walls.

More and more people are literally climbing the walls every weekend!

The indoor climbing wall was once the sad afterthought in children’s play centres, lurking unused behind the slides and the coloured ball parks.  It was the little used addition at the back of the odd gym with dust gathering on the coloured holds.  Not anymore!  Indoor Climbing Centres are the fastest growing fitness trend for this year.  Once favoured by rock climbers for training and keeping fit in between their mountain adventures, they are now a regular part of many sport and fitness enthusiast’s daily regime’s.  The hardened traditional climbers must now take their turn behind indoor climbers embracing this alternative to the gym. It is a fun way of getting fit. Many indoor wall climbers have no intention of ever climbing outdoors and view heading up the walls after a day at the office as a chance to destress and to get fit.   The weather in Ireland also lends itself to indoor activities too.

Climbing Centres are exciting.  They are basically a multi-coloured playground for adults!  These adrenalin infused centres are also safe places to try an extreme sport without the ever present danger of falling to your death. (Always a plus!) Enthusiasts say it is a very social activity too, as conversation and interaction is more frequent than with your regular gym experience.  Perhaps hanging off a wall by your fingertips is conducive to chatting… who knew?

Where is my nearest indoor climbing wall?

Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway all boast excellent climbing walls centres. There are smaller walls in other locations and Google will help with finding your nearest indoor climbing experience.  However, a full list of recommended climbing centres are available from the mountaineering Ireland website. www.moutaineeringireland.ie. These venues do regular route-setting on the walls, which means there is a constant flow of new challenges for climbers of all levels. Most of the centres have induction courses and training sessions for newbies and they can offer instruction and coaching to climbers of all abilities.  Whether they want to improve their skills or personal performance, or just try something new.

Bouldering versus Lead Climbing?

Boulder climbing has overtaken lead climbing in popularity and is by far one of the most popular sports worldwide.  Bouldering is solo climbing a rock or boulder some 3-5 meters high, with no harness or rope while lead climbing is climbing the holds, but with a harness and or ropes.  Both are skilled activities which challenge the senses, the body and the mind.  While you are not too far off the ground with bouldering, the adrenalin definitely pumps and the sense of achievement is huge.  The Wall is Dublin’s best and biggest bouldering wall with over 1000 square metres of climbing surface and a wide range of angles and features.   A good pair of climbing shoes makes a huge difference to the ease of traversing, while bouldering as grip is definitely a plus.   The thrill of climbing without ropes in a safe environment is a real draw but for many, lead or rope climbing has a sufficient thrill factor and is just as challenging on the body and the mind.

What you Need?

Shorts and T-shirts are the usual choice of attire for indoor climbers. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t have pieces of clothing flapping around as you traverse the boulders, but there are no hard and fast rules for what you should wear.  A regular pair of sports shoes will do just fine for your first try at lead climbing and most centres will have specialist climbing shoes for hire, if you prefer. While climbing shoes are not essential, they will definitely enhance your climbing experience.   Harnesses and ropes are always provided.

So, mostly you just need a go-to attitude and a sense of adventure!

Child’s Play

One of the joys of indoor climbing centres is that they cater for all ages, so they are perfect for family outings, birthday treats and rainy weekend adventures.  The variety of routes on offer and the safety standards mean the young people can build confidence and core strength on suitable climbs.  The brightly hued holds are colour coded for difficulty and the routes allow even small people to achieve dizzying heights in a safe way.  Of course, there is always the embarrassment of having the kids out-climb you on the walls, but their happiness should be a comfort to your bruised ego.

Progressing to the rocks of the real world

Budding climbers often use indoor climbing walls to gain experience of working with ropes in order to progress on to outdoor rock faces.  It’s a wonderful way to pick up many skills and gain experience. However, the transition to climbing outside is not just about fitness level and a working knowledge of the ropes. Searching for climbing holds in the gym is one thing, but facing that grey rock for the real-world equivalent that may be subtly blended into the rock face is another. For this reason, it is recommended that you join a club, or choose an experienced mentor, when you move from the climbing walls to the outside world.  Ireland has many rock climbing and bouldering clubs, who welcome new members while sharing their experience and camaraderie on the cliffs and craggy rocks of Ireland.

The popularity of indoor climbing overtook its outdoor counterpart in the past year. This is only a taste of what is to come as more athletes get a taste for scrambling over boulders and shimmying down climbing walls!  Sports climbing will make its debut in the 2020 Olympics in Japan and no doubt this will cause another surge of interest.   So, this weekend if you feel like climbing the walls… you know exactly what to do.