(CNN)Rock climbing may seem like a niche sport, possibly one fraught with danger. After all, it involves scaling the side of a cliff or simulated rock wall. But experts say it offers participants a wide variety of physical and mental health benefits that are not always found in other sports. And more people are climbing than ever -- thanks in part to hit flicks such as "Free Solo" and "The Dawn Wall."
Rock climbing brings unexpected benefits
Subscribe to CNN's Fitness, But Better newsletter. Sign up for our newsletter series to ease into a healthy routine, backed by experts.
Climbing as a recreational sport became popular in the 1980s, with the nation's first indoor climbing gym opening in Seattle. Today, there are more than 500 indoor climbing walls in the United States, powering a $493 million industry, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
More than 10 million Americans were taking part in climbing by 2020, and sport climbing debuted the following year at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
The new Olympic sport features three disciplines: bouldering, which is performed on lower walls without ropes; speed climbing, where the fastest person to the top wins; and lead climbing, where the goal is to climb as high as possible within a time limit.
While rock climbing attracts thrill-seekers, others appreciate it as an excellent workout that also calms and sharpens the mind.
Here are eight reasons you may wish to give rock climbing a try.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
Fast-moving sports such as running, soccer and cycling come to mind as workouts that elevate your heart rate. But climbing gets your heart pumping, too, as it involves a lot of pulling, pushing and lifting. And the more challenging the climb compared with your ability, the more of a workout.