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Can You Start Climbing at Age 40? Yes, Here’s Why and How

Last updated January 24, 2022| Inspiration

It’s a myth that we can only learn new things when we’re young. In fact, as we get older, our brains tend to set us up for life-long learning.

There are many myths surrounding aging and sports like rock-climbing; these include: “you’re too old,” “there’s no point in starting now” or even “I’m just too out of shape.” These misconceptions are dangerous for many reasons, not least because they prevent us from living life to the fullest.

Still, many people over 40 believe that at a certain point, it’s too late to learn something new. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’m too old to start climbing,” then I want to show you how and why you are in fact… wrong.

With some patience and hard work, everyone has a chance to succeed in anything they want to do.

The main goal of this article is to provide encouragement for those wishing to get into rock climbing, bouldering, or mountaineering after age 40.

Can You Start Climbing at Age 40? Yes, Here's Why and How

Why We Think We Can’t Learn New Things As We Age

What’s the one thing that most people believe when they’re young? That there is no way to learn anything new after the age of 40.

This belief is reinforced by parents, teachers and society at large who tell us as children that once we reach middle age, it will all be downhill from there.

But this isn’t true. We can still learn something new after 40, 50, 60 or older!

The truth is: you don’t need a whole lot of brainpower to keep learning new things well into old age. It’s not about how smart your brain is; it’s about how much effort you put in and which techniques you use for retaining what you’ve learned over time.

Some people call this “deliberate practice”. Others have a more advanced and arguably better term: “deep work”, which is the ability to focus your attention, often on a single subject for hours at a time. Nowadays, most of us are really bad at deep work – not because we can’t do it, but because we have been trained to avoid it.

Deep work is hard and we’ve developed an aversion to the discomfort that comes with this state of mind. But if you can learn to embrace deep work, learning new things will become easier as you age.

Reasons You Can Still Learn Something New After 40

1) Your brain is still good at retaining information as it gets older. You’ll have a long-term memory bank full of knowledge from your past experiences to draw on for future learning endeavors (that means if you’ve ever learned anything before, like how to play an instrument or speak another language, these skills will be easier for you to call upon now than they were 20 years ago).

3) You’re more patient at 40 than when you were in your 20s. As we get older, our prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for planning, organization and impulse control – matures. As a result, we’re better able to make decisions based on the past (and present) events in our life rather than reacting impulsively like teenagers tend to do.

4) Of course, age isn’t the only thing that affects learning ability; your attitude towards it does too. If you know you can still learn new skills after 40, you’ll be more motivated to do so. It’s easy to understand why this attitude is important; just consider how much better off you’d be if you were more open-minded about learning something new like a musical instrument or a foreign language as an adult.

With these above facts and tips in mind, there’s no reason to worry that you’re “too old” to learn something new. Learning a new skill might not be easy, but it’s certainly possible, no matter how old you are.

Can You Start Climbing at Age 40? Yes, Here's Why and How

What Can Stop Me From Climbing at Age 40: 6 Common Objections

You might feel like starting climbing late in life is impossible. Here are the top six reasons people give for not starting rock climbing or mountaineering after age 40:

1) My body doesn’t work like it used to

2) I don’t have time for a new hobby

3) I’m worried about hurting myself or falling

4) People will judge me

5) I’ve never done this before and I don’t know what to do

6) I can’t afford it

Does any of this sound familiar? Can you overcome these obstacles to start climbing at age 40 or beyond? YES!

How Can I Overcome These Obstacles and Start Climbing After Age 40?

Odds are you have some of the same excuses that most people do. The main points we want to address here will be 1) you can start climbing if you find the right gym, 2) this will take time and patience, and 3) there are ways to overcome these obstacles.

1. Understand and accept that there will be physical limitations

Climbing is an activity that requires physical strength and endurance, as well as the ability to maintain balance.

As we grow older our muscles lose strength, flexibility and elasticity, making them less effective and more prone to injury.

Take into account your climbing form; this is increasingly important the later in life you start climbing. Remember you probably won’t have the strength you had 20 years ago, so keep that in mind when climbing and for example, avoid relying solely on muscle strength.

Footwork drills will also help you build good form. Gradually increasing the difficulty of your climbs will also improve your technique and body movement.

Your body may not be as spry as you were 20 years ago, but it is still capable of climbing. You can still become a strong climber!

2. Rock climbing doesn’t require all your time

We understand life happens and things can get in the way of your hobby. When you have kids, it may seem like your need for work just multiplies. While climbing still remains a priority that I make time for, given the right amount of training and effort, there are plenty of ways to balance life as a parent with sporting hobbies.

If you want to get the whole family climbing more often, consider making it a family activity!

3. You won’t hurt yourself (badly)

Because you have more life experience and patience, your focus will be less on the end result of the climb than doing it safely. You’ll want to focus on the movement required, rather than getting frustrated if you’re not able to climb a route.

Of course, you need to keep in mind your physical limitations, as we have explained above. Tendon injures are common injuries for people over 40. It’s important to be conscious of how you are moving your fingers, hands and arms. Ask for help from a more experienced climber if necessary and listen to your own body.

4. Don’t fear judgment

Being judged is an obstacle for many new climbers, especially the older ones. They don’t want to look bad in front of others. The good news is that this will not happen at a rock gym! There are lots of people around with all different levels so you’ll never be the only beginner or climber at your level of experience/skill.

Entering into a new realm of exercise can lead to fear of judgment, but everyone at the climbing gym has been exceedingly welcoming and eager to offer help and advice to other (new) climbers.

Most people absolutely won’t mind if you talk to them and ask for advice. They will be glad to see someone else enjoying their sport!

5. Be realistic

Even if you take up climbing at 40, it is unlikely that you will ever be the world’s best climber. The majority of people who climb recreationally are just like me–not competing to prove themselves but rather for enjoyment. However, most importantly: if you’re over 40 and considering whether or not you want to get into this sport – be realistic, and enjoy every step of the way. It is a fantastic way to stay fit and active!

Can You Start Climbing at Age 40? Yes, Here's Why and How

More Reasons Why You Can Still Start Rock Climbing at 40

Still not convinced? Here are some more reasons why you can start climbing after 40:

1. It’s Never Too Late To Be Healthy

One of the most compelling reasons for anyone to start rock climbing is still something that all new climbers experience, and that’s a physical feeling of well-being. Climbing is one of the best forms of exercise available because it uses so many different muscle groups at once.

Climbing is a full-body workout that works your arms, legs and core. You’ll get stronger with every climb, while increasing endurance through your cardiovascular system.

2. You are a wiser person than you were 20 years

Many people say rock climbing gets better and more fun with age because of the perspective that comes from experience.

As you get older and wiser things become more manageable, and rock climbing will be one of them. You’ll see challenges as opportunities to improve rather than reasons not to try!

3. It’s fun!

Rock climbing becomes more fun with age because of the perspective that comes from experience. Rock climbing also becomes more fun with age for many people because they know how to be more patient and maintain control during their climb. For older climbers, it is not usually about the end result but rather the fun and joys that come with the climbing itself.

Climb often and you’ll see that it’s an incredibly satisfying and thrilling experience for any age!

4. Positive social interactions

One of the major reasons people are attracted to climbing as an activity is because it builds a sense of community among climbers. Unlike other sports where people are often competing against each other, climbing always has an element of cooperation. It also stresses communication and problem-solving skills in both the process and outcome.

5. Climbing keeps your brain active

Studies show that regular exercising can slow age-related memory decline in older adults and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This is because it aids blood flow to the parts of your brain that focus on memory and cognitive health.

How to Start Climbing at Age 40 and Beyond: 6 Tips

Now, finally, I just want to round out this article with some practical advice about how to get into climbing. There are entire guides written on this topic, so I won’t spend too much time here, but I do have a few pointers:

1. Find a climbing friend

One of the best ways to get into climbing is to go with someone else. It makes you feel more comfortable and it also gives you someone who can offer some advice or instruction. Ask around your gym or club if any of your friends climb and see if they are willing to take you out on one. Or, you might know somebody outside of the gym who also likes rock climbing?

2. Join a gym and take lessons

If you don’t know someone who rock climbs, consider signing up for an introductory class! They’re open to all ages and will be great for teaching you the basics.

When first starting out, chances are you’ll have a lot of questions about equipment, beta on certain routes, and wanting to just chat with people. But most folks won’t mind if you start talking to them – in fact, they’ll probably be happy when they see someone else enjoying the sport that they love!

3. Get the right gear

Getting the right gear is essential. You don’t have to get the most expensive stuff, especially when you’re just starting out, but buying quality gear will save you trouble in the long run.

If you want to learn more about climbing gear, such as harnesses, ropes, climbing shoes and more, we highly recommend checking out our climbing gear guides.

Can You Start Climbing at Age 40? Yes, Here's Why and How

4. Celebrate your goals

Set small goals and celebrate success along the way. This is just a hobby, so keep things in perspective and understand that it will take a while to get good at climbing or to start leading routes.

5. Warm-up & stretch

It’s important to warm up before climbing, especially if you are older. Climbing often involves awkward positions – which can put pressure on joints such as your knees and shoulders. Stretching these muscles beforehand will help protect from injury.

6. Test out different types of climbing

Although rock climbing is possibly the most accessible form of climbing at an ‘older’ age, there are many other types of climbing you can give a shot. You won’t know which one’s the right type of climbing for you before trying out a few.

Some Final Thoughts

Rock climbing is a healthy activity that can provide many benefits for climbers of any age. The sport will keep your brain active and engaged in the activity of getting to the top, and also builds positive social interactions with others who enjoy climbing.

The physical experience of rock climbing has been shown to slow age-related memory decline and prevent Alzheimer’s disease over time as well due to its ability to increase blood flow throughout your body!

Don’t let the fact that many people are focused on other things after age 40 stop you from doing something fun like rock climbing.  If something is important to you, keep trying and you’ll find a way to get it done!

And finally, remember: The key to getting ahead is getting started!

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