The old adage “age is but a number” is extraordinarily true in the climbing community.
Yuichiro Miura was 80 years old when he reached the summit of Mount Everest, and Fred Beckey was in his late 80’s still attempting unclimbed mountains. Yet, most people of advanced age – whatever that means to you – balk at the idea of learning to rock climb. Understandably so, outsiders looking in on the climbing community see only daredevils risking their lives while in search of some great adrenaline rush; older individuals seem to think this stereotype is especially true, and most could never see themselves ascending a rock face. Further, people have a tendency to assume that the physicality of climbing is going to be too much for their body. Here, we argue that these fears and assumptions are incorrect; instead, we suggest that climbing is an activity that can be adapted to benefit individuals of all levels of health and fitness. We encourage individuals of all shapes, sizes, and ages to let rock climbing add to their health and happiness.
Rock climbing is easily adapted to allow older individuals to participate in the sport, most usually to the benefit of their fitness and longevity. Contrary to popular belief, climbing is something that can be enjoyed by individuals of all levels of strength and athleticism; therefore, the fear that an individual is not capable of rock climbing is largely unfounded. There are also a number of physical, psychological, and emotional benefits associated with rock climbing – especially for older individuals.
Generally, the climbing community is composed of an extremely supportive group of individuals that embrace newcomers. At any particular climbing area, you might meet individuals from all over the world, and as diverse as they might be, each will share their love of adventure and nature. Oftentimes, perfect strangers shout encouragement at one another on rock climbs, urging each other on to reach the top of their chosen climbing route.
For individuals that have been nature lovers their entire life, climbing is a new perspective on exploring and experiencing the mountains. Further, it’s a wonderful excuse to get outside on a nice day to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. Climbing can be physically tough (depending on your skill and the route you choose), but rock climbing can also be about hanging out on a ledge somewhere enjoying the view.
Excuses for Travel
Climbers have a reason to visit some of the nicest national parks in the United States. Of course, everyone should go visit wonderful locations like Yosemite, Red Rock, and Joshua Tree (and many do). Rock climbers visit these locations with a feeling of purpose and drive that most other visitors don’t have. Most tourists want to meander about national parks and enjoy the view (which admittedly, everyone can appreciate). Climbers, however, find themselves compelled to seek out and ascend specific mountains and climbing routes. This type of drive is more likely to get you off the couch, and visiting national parks.
Give climbing a try, and you might decide to spend your retirement conquering mountains rather than just sight-seeing!
Individuals of all ages benefit from a weight-bearing activity, research has shown that weight-bearing exercise (such as walking and lifting weights) is an effective way to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and other health conditions generally associated with aging. We argue that climbing is a fun way to stay physically active, and can have many of the health benefits associated with other weight-bearing activities.
Rock climbing usually feels like solving a puzzle. Oftentimes, climbing feels more like a mental challenge than it does a physical one. Much like a game of chess, to be an effective climber you’re frequently thinking several steps ahead and planning your moves long before you ever enact them. Individuals that are interested in staying mentally engaged, but don’t necessarily receive much joy from the cross-word puzzles, might receive the stimulation they need from climbing. Further, learning how to safely use various belaying systems and climbing gear can be a fantastic way to stay mentally engaged.
Climbing is for Old Timers and the Young
Above, we have argued that there are a number of psychological and physical benefits that should be encouraging older individuals to try out rock climbing. A sense of community, love of nature, and enjoyment of physical activity should be enough reason for any individual to try out rock climbing—not just individuals of retirement age. Remember, climbing isn’t as difficult as everybody thinks. Climbing gyms are full of easy routes to top-rope and learn the basics of climbing.