• Nikki

Climbing, altruism and human survival

We’ve all seen articles about how climbing is good for your well being, but why is this? In this article, we take a look at research to help us understand what is going on in your brain when you climb and how Urban Uprising can triple the hit.

Strong scenes at The Climbing Academy (Courtesy photo / TCA)

Hit #1: What happens in your brain when you climb?

Climbing and bouldering involves completing problems, routes, and individual moves, and each time you achieve such a ‘goal’, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres. It also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move towards them. It’s a great drug that makes us all feel happy. We like the way this makes us feel so we seek more rewards, and the more we are rewarded, the more our dopamine levels increase. Thus sending or completing a route or move increases dopamine and then fuels the urge to do it again.

In an over-simplification, dopamine is central to generating the feeling of pleasure. It serves a biological function to get us to repeat actions that are, hopefully, good for us, e.g. sex for reproduction, eating or accomplishing a task for survival.

Climbing and bouldering also raises your heart rate, which stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are morphine-based pain relievers, and just like when you take morphine, they can make you feel dreamy and pain-free. Furthermore, sports involving an element of fear cause the brain to release higher doses of endorphins, dopamine, and norepinephrine, making the body feel a whole new level of excitement. Thus the scarier the sport is, the more addictive it can be. That’s why it’s so easy to get hooked on climbing despite a fear of heights, and even if you are not bothered by heights, you may well have felt the fear of falling.

Hit #2: What happens when you help others?