By Andrea Slivkova
First we were captivated by the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’), enjoying the simple pleasures of cosy living, like reading a book sitting by the fireplace on a cold winter day. The Danes have mastered the art of living in the moment, making the most of what nature has dealt them. They treasure the cosy comforts of their homes that shield them from their hostile winters, and it could be one of the reasons Denmark came out at the top of the list of the happiest countries in the world, despite their harsh climate. The Danish trend for cosy living has been reflected in interior design, fuelling a demand for all things natural, from warm knitted blankets and cosy rugs, to rustic wood burners and fireplaces.
Now another Scandinavian trend is making its way to our shores, the Norwegian friluftsliv. It means literally ‘free air life’, a Norwegian tradition of connecting with nature with simplicity that involves the senses but excludes gadgets. Think breathing in clean air and being aware of it, rather than being distracted by taking selfies. It means feeling the fresh breeze, the warmth of the sun or the cold wind, while taking in the beauty of nature with your own eyes, not through the phone’s camera lens.
Connection with nature is deeply embedded in the Norwegian culture. Forest walks, climbing mountains and hiking along the coast provide opportunities to unwind and de-stress, as well as to spend time with friends and family, bringing people closer together.
The concept of enjoying nature for its many benefits is nothing new – being in harmony with nature has long been known for its therapeutic powers.
Nature has a calming effect on our nervous system – it helps lower our heart rate and blood pressure, it relaxes us by dealing with the stress hormones that regularly flood our system, while also improving our immune function.
A new term ‘ecotherapy’ is increasingly being used to describe the beneficial effects of spending time surrounded by nature. It brings about calm, self-reflection and an opportunity to re-connect with what’s really important to us. Nature offers the best antidote to the stresses of modern living, fears and anxieties.
If you have ever suffered from depression, you’d be familiar with replaying negative thoughts in your mind, a habit of rumination that’s very difficult to break. But a Stanford University study in 2015 showed that spending time in nature successfully counteracted this common feature of depression. Being outdoors reminds us that we are part of a bigger world and encourages us to take better care of our health and wellbeing.
Exercising outdoors brings further benefits. Compare running on the treadmill with running outdoors – the latter brings so much more than a good cardiovascular workout. Running outdoors burns more calories due to the wind resistance and the uneven surface of the ground, but looking at the trees on the horizon also provides a distraction so you won’t notice how much harder you are working. Add to it the calming effect of the greenery around you, the peaceful scenery to absorb, and you have a workout with a therapeutic effect on the body and the mind.
By the way, you don’t have to travel to the mountains to enjoy the natural beauty – simply sit under a tree in your local park and feel the power of the nature.