Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Self Esteem and Mountaineering

The journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by the Wilderness Medical Society, always has a number of very interesting articles of significance to the layperson outdoor medicine enthusiast.

"Students Experience Self-Esteem Improvement During Mountaineering," by Saeid Bahaeloo-Horeh and Shervin Assari (WEM volume 19, pages 181-185, 2008), was a study of 54 students from different universities in the city of Tehran, Iran who participated in a mountaineering program. Using a self-esteem scale, the participants were measured before and after the mountaineering activity. By the measures used, it was discovered that their self-esteem was improved. Interestingly, the self-esteem correlated with the degree of bodily pain reported, and was also correlated with an improvement in mental health and depression. It did not correlate with age, gender, marital status, prior personal or family history of mountaineering, prior history of mountain sickness, or reaching the summit (of mount Damavind).

The authors note the historical belief that sports activities build self esteem. However, this has never before been quantified for outdoor or wilderness activities. Their findings make sense, from the perspective that positive achievement should lead to an improvement in self-esteem and how one views oneself.

It is intriguing to note that there may be a lessening of depression, or tendencies towards depression. It is not possible from this study to ascertain how long this effect might persist. Many outdoor educators have observed that persons who suffer from clinical depression often do not find a significant improvement in mood by participating in outdoor recreation, and may even be disappointed by the experience when their depression is not lessened by their activities. The logical way to think about that observation against the findings of this study is that there are many variables to a situation, such as the cause and severity of depression (or any mental illness), the specific effects of an activity, the physiology and emotional state of individuals, and so forth. However, it is encouraging to note that a sense of accomplishment from a relatively brief mountaineering program can have such a laudatory effect on how a person views him or herself. Furthermore, without a positive correlation related to reaching the summit, it is fair to say that it is the activity, or "the journey," that is important.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.