What the Nordics can teach us about spending time in nature and how it can have a profound effect on our health and wellbeing.
The outdoor life is deeply rooted in the Nordic soul, and the people in those countries have long lived with close connection to their environment. The famous saying ‘There are no bad weather – only bad clothing’ was most likely coined by a Scandinavian and its one maxim that most all people in the Nordic countries live by. I should know. I grew up in the countryside in Sweden and throughout the year, we spent it outside, foraging, skiing, swimming. My parents dragging me out for weekly walks, me probably complaining, they probably armed with some coffee and a sandwich or maybe a cinnamon roll to have along the way.
We all know that getting out in nature makes all of us feel better and for anyone who has kids, knows that most of the time taking the kids out of the house, to the park or in the garden for a slow meandering walk, can make all the difference to their mood if they are cranky. There is something very healing about allowing yourself that time to get outside and should be a big part in anyone’s self-care routine.
Research has shown repeatedly that spending time in natural surroundings impacts our mood, reduces our stress levels, and can improve how your nervous system and immune system as well as the endocrine system – which is made up of glands that produces hormones – are working. Even having a single plant in an office, school or hospital can have a significant beneficial effect and adding a poster of a natural setting can improve how we feel.
Studies from Helsinki University showed that kids who swapped gravel and concrete to play on a forest-based playground generally fight less, have fewer tantrums and usually cooperate well. We can all need a bit more of that in our adult lives too.
We are all so busy and a lot of us work in cities where maybe all we can see are other houses, concrete and cars which can make it hard to convince ourselves to leave the office. However, making it non-negotiable get out once or twice a day to seek out some nature will reduce your stress levels which in turn help to prevent so many of the illnesses we think is just part and parcel of a modern lifestyle.
Any moment outdoors counts
You don’t even need long to achieve benefits. Sometimes, the mere thought of making a change can feel overwhelming because we think it must be done perfect or take up lots of time or you have to go really ‘wild’ . Research show that only 4-5 minutes spent in a natural setting is beneficial which is good to know for us city dwellers. So, try and find a natural setting close to where you are and making it a promise to yourself that no matter what the weather, you are getting out there and embracing the outdoors.
The Biophilia hypothesis is the idea that because our ancestors evolved in wild setting and relied on it for survival, we have an inbuilt need to connect with nature that is rooted in our biology and evolution. Homo sapiens have lived on earth for at least 50,000 years and our biology has only changed about 0.003 percent since the ice age, which lasted until about 11,500 years ago. It is not surprising that the speed that characterises our society has had a detrimental effect our mental health and that many report burnt out syndrome and very high stress levels.
Hug a tree
Dr. Miles Richardson, a nature connection psychologists and the author of Reconnected says that ‘When we are in the presence of trees, our heart rate changes, calming and rebalancing the systems that regulate our emotions’. So already you can imagine the profound benefits what spending time close to nature as it both reduces our cortisol levels and blood pressure.
Nature and wellbeing
Working as functional nutritionist I see many clients in my practice that complains about digestive issues, hormonal issues which relates to PMS, perimenopause, fertility, skin issues and much more. What is clear is that stress plays a huge role in all of these conditions. Of course, tweaking what we eat and using food as medicine and working out the root cause is helpful but managing your stress can be a big game changer. Stress always affects our sleep so just by managing that you can see huge progress on your health journey.
Simple ways to include nature in your day.
I always suggest as part of their protocol that clients try and embrace nature in all its forms on a daily basis.
- It can be as easy as adding a few more plants to their desk, opening windows and airing out your office before starting the working day.
- Upon waking, cracking open a window or a door and letting soe natural light in on the face as getting some early morning rays and as sun sets, evening light on your face and eyelids. This simple act can be so helpful if you are struggling with sleep as it will support your circadian rhythm. This is also particularly good for skin as early morning sunlight pre-conditions it and the light at sunset repairs it.
- Making a date with the outside works regularly, even schedule it in your diary if that is what it takes. Seek out activities that include an outdoor element such as joining a walking or a running group, hiking or foraging.
Functional nutritionist, author and educator promoting wellness for everyday living. Author of the book The book of Nordic self care and The Lagom Life – a Swedish way of Living.
Nature loving city dweller finding peace and calm in the natural world every day. I grew up on a farm in Sweden and the simple rituals around seasonal food and the power of the natural world are now woven into my approach to nutrition and health.
From working in the wellness field I can see how complicated it all has become and I feel a strong need to go back to basics, because as I know from growing up, staying healthy is not a mystery. I use the power of nature in my practice with all my clients and help them find what makes them feel good by embracing the outdoors in all weathers.