For most people, the idea of gathering in a park or garden in the cold is less than appealing, but social distancing rules have made it a necessity if we want to catch up with our loved ones
Yet the agony of socialising outdoors in the wind and rain isn’t a feeling that’s universal. In fact, in most Scandinavian countries, even in the depths of winter, groups of friends can often be found hiking and picnicking together, rather than cosied up in a pub – embracing something they call ‘friluftsliv’ which literally translates to ‘open-air living’.
To learn more about the benefits of ‘friluftsliv’, and how we can begin to embrace the idea of outdoor living, we spoke with Lena Köpcke, who is chief of people and culture at Swedish angling app Fishbrain.
“In Scandinavia, people typically live near large nature spots, and it is part of our culture to spend time enjoying the great outdoors, both alone and with friends and family,” says Lena.
“Friluftsliv is a way of life for us, and we find deep happiness in spending time out in nature, enjoying the fresh air and embracing the world around us.
“Winters in Scandinavia are typically cold and long; however, we don’t let this stop us from spending time outside: as the Scandinavian saying goes; ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’!
“In the wake of lockdown restrictions across the globe, embracing the great outdoors has become a necessity for many; however, doing so is also a great step to take to improve your mental and physical health.
“Being outside and spending time in nature has been proven to benefit your mental health. It is also well known that exercise – be it walking, running or yoga – improves our physical and mental wellbeing. All of these can be done outside, with friends and family, surrounded by nature.
“A typical friluftsliv day varies from person to person but would typically start with waking up early, making a packed-lunch and putting it into a backpack, along with any other essentials (a coat or an umbrella, for example). This would be followed by some kind of activity – a walk or a bike ride, perhaps.
“Planning a route that enables you to take in the earth’s natural beauty will allow you to truly revel in the wonders of the world we live in, bringing you joy. I’d suggest planning to meet a friend for a hike and a picnic, a bike ride or a long walk – you’ll be surprised at how energised you’ll feel after spending time in the company of those you love in the great outdoors.
“Friluftsliv can also be adapted to your interests: the crux is that whatever you are doing must take place outdoors. This could mean exploring a nature reserve or a forest, or it could be enjoying a small fika (coffee and cake) break in the open air, perhaps in a park or even in your garden.
“Widespread accessibility to the countryside in Sweden helps to make friluftsliv popular, but no matter where you are in the UK, you can still put on your backpack and go on an adventure.
“You can still move and use your body, spend time in nature, and share the experience with those you love, which is the most important part of Friluftsliv!”
Positive effects on physical and mental wellbeing
David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of mental wellbeing and self-development platform Remente, adds: “Friluftsliv, is a lifestyle concept that refers to the value of spending time outdoors which can have positive effects on both mental and physical wellbeing.
“It can help us cultivate gratitude for all that we have, and all that nature provides. It’s a practice of finding pause in the busy mundane by literally breathing in the fresh air and connecting back to nature, no matter the season.
“What’s more, friluftsliv is vital to our physical and mental wellbeing, with studies showing that living in a state of disconnection to nature may be downright traumatic.
“Friluftsliv is also a vehicle to a state of mindfulness, which research shows can reduce stress, increase wellbeing, and improve our mood.
“In fact, a study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that mindfulness reduced the levels of anxiety for patients who practiced it, whereas researchers at the University of Oxford and the American Psychological Association discovered that mindfulness techniques, when incorporated into cognitive behavioural therapy could help treat depression.
“Moreover, the concept of ecotherapy has been recognised as an effective treatment for depression, with participants in a study by mental health charity Mind reporting significant decreases in anger, confusion, depression, and tension after taking part in outdoor activities.
Scandinavians are introduced to friluftsliv from a young age and can’t imagine life without it. In Sweden alone, there are 25 non-profit friluftsliv associations with 1.7 million active members, and employers encourage the practice with built-in friluftsliv time for workers, recognising the benefits on employee wellbeing and productivity.”
The mental health benefits of spending time in nature
Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of Remente, says: “Several researchers have looked into the health benefits connected to spending time out in nature.
“One study specifically, which was recently published in BioScience Journal, found that daily exposure to nature can, among other things, help reduce feelings of stress and even improve your self-esteem, for up to seven hours. Reconnecting with nature can also help you become more mindful and present in the moment.
“Since one’s relationship with nature is very individual, to make sure that you get the most out of the outdoors, do something that you enjoy and works for you.
“For some, this means enjoying a good conversation during a morning stroll. For others, it could mean doing something active, such as running or fishing, or just sitting down to enjoy a moment of peace in nature.
“If possible, try to spend some time outdoors every day, and while you’re outside, take a few minutes to focus on your breathing. As you breathe in and out, concentrate on your senses – what you smell, what you hear, and what you feel.”