- Shutterstock/Blazej Lyjak
The Scandinavians have got it right in so many ways, social welfare, interior design, street style. And, now, it’s their balanced outlook on life that’s growing in popularity.
We’ve seen the world take notice of “hygge,” the Danish word for cozy pronounced “Hoo-gah.” Then, albeit briefly, it was “lagom,” a Swedish word meaning “just the right amount.” Now we are told it’s all about “friluftsliv,” a philosophy slightly harder to say.
Pronounced “free-loofts-liv,” the Swedish/Norwegian word directly translates as ‘free air life’ and is simply the process of spending time outdoors and enjoying nature.
Frida Harju, the in-house nutritionist at health and lifestyle app Lifesum, explains: “It is a way of living – and an essential and obvious part of the lifestyles of most Scandinavians.”
The concept of friluftsliv is also an integral aspect of the Nordic diet. It puts an emphasis on the use of seasonal and locally-produced ingredients.
The Nordic diet is a plant-based diet – which evidence shows is great for losing weight, keeping a healthy heart, and sharp mind, as well as being kind to the environment – and shares many elements in common with the Mediterranean diet. It consists of sources of healthy fats, fruit and vegetables, healthy bacteria, and complex carbs.
The Scandinavians must be doing something right. They consistently rank highest in the world for average life expectancy, which is 82 in Norway and Sweden, and 83 in Iceland, according to the UN’s Human Development Report.
And according to Harju, combining the friluftsliv concept with the Nordic diet into your day-to-day life will leave you feeling both healthier and happier. Here’s her 11 step plan to eating and living more like a Nordic.
1. A hearty breakfast.
“Every Swede is taught from a young age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” said Frida.
Think a continental breakfast with a twist, usually kicked off with a black coffee. “Scandis are known for their high coffee consumption,” she said. If drunk in moderation, it can boost the blood circulation and its flow to the brain, as well as speed up your metabolism.
A typical breakfast also usually consists of either a hard boiled egg, or ham, cheese, sausage or liver pâté on bread or crackers. Cereal (muesli) with filmjölk, a tangy dairy product similar to yoghurt, porridge or rice pudding with jam, are also popular choices.
2. Drink Björksav (Birch sap).
Birch sap is a relatively new health trend to hit the UK, but the Scandinavians have been drinking it since the 1700s, said Harju.
“Birch tree water has been claimed to help treat everything from cellulite and flu, to headache, and eczema. It is also known to improve the immune system.
“Birch water is a proven slimming product, as the sap eliminates toxins that the liver usually processes, for example, saturated fats and preservatives, making it easier to lose weight.”
3. Snack on Quark.
- Shutterstock/Iryna Melnyk
Quark is a type of fresh dairy product that has a similar creamy texture and tangy taste to sour cream, but is milder. There are also plenty of flavoured options.
“Swedes often look for protein-rich snacks to fuel their day,” said Harju. “And this has become a particularly popular option as it is low in fat and sugar. Easily accessible in UK supermarkets is the Icelandic Skyr, a dairy product with similar health benefits to quark.”
4. Eat more ‘good-fat’ fish…
One of the main sources of protein in Scandinavia is ‘good-fat’ oily fish, like pickled herring, salmon, or mackerel. There is a strong emphasis on local produce in the Nordic diet, and many Scandinavians buy fish and meat from local fishmongers and butchers to ensure the utmost freshness.
Harju said: “If you suspect that the meat you have picked up has travelled for weeks by several types of vehicles to get to your local shop, then it probably has, and this is a good reason for you to pick something else.”
… 5. With a side of root veg.
Swap your pasta or rice sides for complex carbs, such as root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, all seasonal of course, or pulses like beans and lentils.
“Not only do health-conscious Swedes opt for organic food in the supermarket, more and more are growing their own produce in an urban environment, or shop their foods from their nearest local farmer.”
6. Try dairy-free alternatives.
- Shutterstock/Yulia Furman
While dairy products are an integral part of the Nordic diet, Scandinavians also drink healthy alternatives such as oat milk, according to Harju.
“Oat milk is high in natural fibre and iron and also low in fat and calories, which makes it a desirable option for anyone trying to lose weight.”
7. Do something new.
- Shutterstock/ Vastram
Once you’ve got your diet straight, it’s time to start thinking about living a more balanced life, the Nordic way.
“There is less emphasis on sweaty gyms or spinning classes, and more time spent enjoying the fun things in life, making them just that extra bit happier and healthier,” Harju said.
The concept of friluftsliv can effectively be broken down into two parts: Spending time outdoors and getting involved in some kind of activity that you enjoy.
This can be anything from quaint and wholesome activities such as berry or mushroom picking in a forest, cross-country skiing in the winter, or going fishing in the summer, according to Harju.
For the city-bound, this could translate to taking a dip in your local lido, or booking your nearest tennis court for a weekend game.
8. Take indoor activities outside.
“While you may not be able to go fishing if you live in a city, you can still incorporate friluftsliv into your life simply by spending time outdoors,” said Harju.
“Instead of running at the gym, head outside. Get a group of friends together to play a game of football, and have outdoor walking meetings with colleagues whenever possible.”
9. Just keep moving.
- Shutterstock/Blazej Lyjak
Harju said: “Any true believer of friluftsliv will do their best to move as much as possible, every day. Making your body the central tool of your day.”
“[This] will keep you guilt-free if you missed the gym, and make you feel happy and healthy, even on days when all you want to do is treat yourself to some unhealthy food and watch Netflix from your sofa.”
Begin exploring your city by foot, walk to that next meeting on foot, or get off the bus a stop earlier than usual, and always, always take the stairs.
Why not also take up Nordic walking, a full-body exercise that originated as a summer training regime for cross-country skiers, that is now enjoying a moment in the UK. Nordic walking places an emphasis on getting your arms moving, using walking poles.
Groups dedicated to the activity have been popping up all over the country, with programmes at local green spaces funded by both the NHS and local authorities.
10. Book an activity-based holiday.
- Flickr/João Trindade
Many Scandinavians will opt for an active holiday such as a skiing, rather than a lazy one spent at the beach, according to Harju.
“If you live somewhere where outdoor activity seems difficult then why not make your next holiday an activity based one, somewhere where you can enjoy spending time in nature?”
She adds: “For anyone wanting to go hardcore friluftsliv there are plenty of companies out there offering adventure trips including everything from mountain climbing to ‘extreme kayaking’ in the wild.”
“However, if you don’t want to engage in anything quite as active as that, then a holiday where you take long walks in the forest, swim in lakes, or hike up a hill to enjoy a pretty view, are just as good.”
11. Don’t let the rain stop you.
And finally, “‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’ is an expression deeply rooted in the concept of friluftsliv and a sentence every single Swede will have been told as a child,” said Harju.
“It means not to let harsher weather conditions put you off going outside. An extra layer will get you far and a bit of wind on your face won’t do you any harm.”