For my 51st birthday, my brother gave me an unusual gift: an afternoon of climbing with my nephews at a local New Rochelle rock gym, The Rock Club. I remember walking in, looking up at the 40-foot walls and thinking, how on earth am I going to do this? Well, it turned out to be one of the most amazing and fun things I’ve ever tried. And I was hooked right away.
Many people think of rock climbing as an extreme sport, mostly meant for young people. In actuality, the popularity of climbing has skyrocketed in recent years — in 2020 it will debut in the Olympics — and I am living proof that anyone can start climbing at any age. My lightbulb moment came when I realized that climbing is a really incredible way to stay fit while having a great time, so it never felt like I was “exercising.” So I quit my regular gym, which had become an endless, boring chore.
With climbing I had found something completely unexpected: a challenging, fun sport, in which the goal is to get up a “route” on the wall. These routes, which are set by expert routesetters with skill and imagination, can vary in difficulty from very easy (if you can climb a ladder, you can do it) to extremely challenging. It is like a vertical dance, with particular choreography that you need to decipher. So in addition to the physical task of climbing, you are also problem-solving your way up and honing your focus and concentration.
As I began to advance as a climber, I was amazed at how my fitness level was improving as well. For those of us who have hit middle age, losing strength (muscle mass), flexibility, balance, and even mental acuity can be real concerns. Climbing seems to me to address all of this: you are using every muscle in your body to lift your weight up these walls while your brain is hard at work as well. I’ve been climbing regularly now for several years and can attest that I’m in the best shape now since probably my 20s. And that’s not only me, but people who have known me for a very long time, saying so.
And, finally, climbing has a wonderful social aspect: you are usually climbing with others, and the sport in general offers up a very welcoming and encouraging atmosphere. I’m passionate about this sport (as you can tell) and can only encourage other “middle-agers” to give it a try.