Scandinavians love nature so much that their passion even has its own name: friluftsliv.
The expression literally means “outdoor life” and was popularized in the 1850s by the Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen.
The author of “Dollhouse” used the term to describe the importance of spending time in remote places for one’s physical and spiritual well-being.
Now that the covid-19 pandemic has led to the imposition of generalized confinements, this practice could be beneficial for physical and mental health, as long as social distancing measures and other precautions are observed to avoid contagion.
How can you apply it in your day to day?
Today, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes use the expression outdoor life broadly to refer to various activities such as jogging in a park or forest at lunchtime, cycling to work, meeting friends in a lakeside sauna (with cold water dip included) or just relaxing in a mountain cabin.
All Scandinavian countries have similar laws that allow people to hike or camp practically anywhere, as long as they show respect for nature, wildlife, and the locals.
According to 2017 data from the Swedish government statistical agency, about a third of Swedish citizens engage in outdoor activities at least once a week. And more than half the population has access to a summer house in the country or on the coast.
Many Scandinavian companies even encourage their employees to spend more time outside during working hours..
There are even tax breaks for firms that encourage friluftsliv. In this way, companies in some of these countries can subsidize the sports activities of the personnel.
“All of this clearly shows that the Scandinavian obsession with friluftsliv runs deeper than the roots of the ubiquitous birch trees,” says Maddy Savage, a journalist for BBC Worklife, in an article on the subject published in 2017.
So much so that, for example, in Norway, they have managed to maintain the practice during the pandemic and even reinforce it.
Outdoor life and pandemic
“When the pandemic came to Norway and everything closed, nature was kept open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is how people could stay physically active, walking and running in nature,” said Siri Meland, from Norsk Friluftsliv, a coalition of Norwegian outdoor activities groups, to BBC Mundo.
“People used trees, stones and natural elements instead of exercise machines.”
“With the pandemic, the frequency of people who do friluftsliv has increased, as has its popularity, especially among young people,” he said.
Meland explained that during this summer, 1.5 million Norwegians slept in a tent or in a hammock outdoors.
“But the focus is also on how good it is for your mental health to go out and, for example, take a walk in nature or the woods next to your house,” he added.
Although other countries do not have the same history or infrastructure for promoting friluftsliv, it is a concept that can be easily exported, said Angeliqa Mejstedt, author of The hiking blog, a Swedish blog about this practice, to Maddy Savage, from BBC Worklife.
“You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive equipment or things to do it. Use nature close to where you live,” Lasse Heimdal, former Norsk Friluftsliv secretary general told the program. The World from Public Radio International (PRI) in September.
If you are going to share the experience of nature with friends or family, make sure to wear a mask, maintain social distancing and take all precautions to avoid the spread of covid-19.
“There is no problem as long as you follow the advice of the health authorities,” Meland said.
Heimdal also noted that spending time outdoors yields a host of benefits.
“It’s social, it’s healthy,” he told PRI. “It’s good for your body and good for your mind.”
But friluftsliv “doesn’t just mean participating in outdoor sports,” he clarified.
“It’s much more (than skiing or skating). It’s all kinds of activities in nature,” he said. “Also being in nature, resting in nature. It is not only related to physical activity, but to experiences in nature in a wide range.”
“Going for a walk in a green environment is the easiest thing for everyone,” Meland said. “Science shows that you feel less stressed after just ten minutes walking in a green environment.”
Sitting in a park and sharing tea, for example, also works as a friluftsliv.
“Relaxing, observing the tranquility, resting, being in nature, enjoying the smell of coffee in a bonfire, is friluftsliv”, Meland also said.
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