Ring in the New Year with Your Inner Mountaineer

W. Gifford-Jones, MD and Diana Gifford-Jones – Common Sense Health

It’s not what we were hoping for at this time of year. The doom and gloom of Omicron has many people feeling down. But casting your gaze upwards might be just the right move. For a New Year’s Resolution, this might be a good time to channel your inner mountaineer.

Christmas and New Years should be the season for celebration, not hibernation. Families should be together, not torn apart by differing views on vaccination. Charitable giving should be the theme, not clamouring for rapid test kits. Yet so it goes. Even among those getting out for a would-be joyous wintertime walk, you can see, in the narrow space between their toques and their masks, the melancholy in their eyes.

So, what’s the relevance of mountaineering in these circumstances?

The attributes shared by people who climb high mountains are just what’s needed to fight back against the oppressive weight of pandemic fatigue.

Chase Tucker, founder of Base Camp Training, describes the mountaineering mindset as, “Unwavering self belief. Ability to visualize success in detail. Ability to accept and deal with fear. Ability to manage doubt. Bulletproof positivity.”  He acknowledges risk management skills, but this comes at the end of his list.

There are, undoubtedly, health benefits of climbing uphill. The most obvious are improvements to physical fitness, especially cardiovascular health. The aerobic exercise of climbing reduces body fat, lowering the risk of heart disease. Since climbing, especially with a backpack, is a weight-bearing exercise, it helps maintain bone density. Climbers have strong muscles in the hips and legs, resulting in better balance.

Most exercises done for 20 minutes or longer can help lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and even some types of cancer. Think of exercises that make you feel like you are climbing mountains as a natural antidote to chronic stress too.

There is a full-body exercise called mountain climbers. To do it, from a plank position on the floor supporting your body with your feet and hands, you perform it by taking alternate steps forward to the chest, each time returning to the plank position. It’s a killer, speeding up the heart rate and working all the muscles of the body. If you have ever tried it, you’ll know why climbers are in such tremendous physical shape.

You might want to skip directly to a more manageable, mostly mental, exercise.

But are there health benefits to merely thinking about mountains, and not actually climbing them?

The surprising answer is, yes. Mountaineering involves concentration. The climber’s steel resolve is a mental exercise, not a physical one. Focus on clearing the mind of festering worries has been shown to build confidence and self-esteem. Adherence to a regular routine of concentration exercises can alleviate the symptoms of some mental health problems.

Chase Tucker describes a technique to train your brain for the attribute of positivity using a bracelet. “When you catch yourself thinking negatively, stop take a breath, tell yourself that you can solve the situation with a positive approach and it will all work out fine. Then, swap the bracelet to the other wrist.”

He suggests recording how many times per day you swap wrists. The conscious effort required to stop, reflect, move the bracelet, and try to focus again only on positive thinking involves building commitment to the objective.

Who knows what it will take to break out of the entrenched pandemic mindset while the virus runs its course. But positive mental resolve is a good start for 2022.

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