As the days get shorter and colder, we might have an inclination to run into the cosy embrace of the indoors. But the Scandinavians have a different idea, and it might be key to maintaining our mental health throughout the dark months.
The Norwegians call this idea friluftsliv, which literally translates to ‘free-air life’. Although the term was coined by renowned playwright Henrik Ibsen in his 1859 poem ‘On the Heights’, the concept of a deep, spiritual connection with nature for one’s physical and mental wellbeing has existed for centuries in Norwegian culture.
The approach calls on us to get outside, whatever the weather. If this brings to mind glacial hikes and mountain climbing, don’t panic— it doesn’t have to involve extreme sports to be effective. (However, if that’s in your repertoire, then by all means.) It can be as simple as bundling up and having a hot chocolate in the park on a winter’s day.
There is a rapidly growing body of scientific research that supports the concept of friluftsliv. According to an article published by the Yale School of the Environment, two hours of accumulated nature time per week can significantly improve your mental health:
In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. Two hours was a hard boundary: The study, published last June, showed there were no benefits for people who didn’t meet that threshold.
[...] These studies have shown that time in nature — as long as people feel safe — is an antidote for stress: It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression lessen in natural environments, which also help speed the rate of healing. In a recent study, psychiatric unit researchers found that being in nature reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calm, and lifted mood among patients.
While the idea of nature being a healing force might sound a bit hippy-dippy, the research is there, and only getting stronger. If you want to take care of yourself this winter, take a page out of the Scandinavians’ book— layer up and find some fresh air.