The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being

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The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being

Scandinavians are renowned for their excellent mental health and well-being. This is backed up by data collected by the World Happiness Report, which found that folks who live in nations like Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are amongst the happiest in the world. Learn more about the role of nature in Scandinavian mental health and well-being. 

Scandinavian well-being isn’t simply down to higher taxes and progressive policies on issues like healthcare and climate change. For many, it is a close connection to nature that gives them a sense of fulfillment and boosts their health.

This notion that nature is a core component of health and happiness is reflected in Scandinavian traditions like “friluftsliv”, which encourages folks to get outside and enjoy fresh air as often as possible. These ideas have deep roots in Scandinavian culture and continue to promote health and well-being today.

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being
The concept of friluftsliv first appeared in the 1800s in the work of poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen. Photo: Høgskolen i Volda/Marius Beck Dahle

The History of Nature as Nourishment

The concept of friluftsliv first appeared in the 1800s in the work of poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen. To Ibsen, friluftsliv involves communing with nature so that one might enjoy the freedom and refreshment it offers. As the concept has grown in popularity, scholars have further refined its meaning to “deriving pleasure from engaging with nature alone”.

Interacting with nature isn’t just calming, it’s good for your wellbeing, too. Spending time in nature is positively associated with lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate variability, and improved levels of vitamin D. Spending time outdoors gets you moving and improves physical indicators of mental health like lowered cortisol levels and decreased stress indicators.

As awareness of friluftsliv has grown, folks from around the world have started to adopt the philosophy and other, similar, practices. This may be why concepts like forest bathing, a Japanese tradition, have grown in popularity in recent years. These simple practices give folks a chance to reconnect with nature and engage with the world around them.

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being
Scandinavians are keen sports enthusiasts. Photo: hkdest.se

Sport

Scandinavians find joy in spending quiet time in nature. However, they’re also keen sports enthusiasts and find ways to turn the mountains, valleys, lakes, and seas into a playground. This is why the most popular sports in Scandinavia involve outdoor recreation, like:

Sporty folks who live in Scandinavian countries are well supported by local infrastructure, too. In Sweden, there are cycle routes that extend 332 km and sailors in Denmark can rent boats for day use in the capital city of Copenhagen. This makes the Scandinavian region the perfect place to visit for those who love exploring the great outdoors.

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being
The Scandinavian region boasts hundreds of thousands of campgrounds for folks to explore and enjoy. Photo: Biltema

Camping

The Scandinavian region boasts hundreds of thousands of campgrounds for folks to explore and enjoy. In Sweden alone, there are 75,000 established camping pitches and campers have the right-to-roam (meaning they can camp almost anywhere in the country). The region is milder than most people imagine, too, meaning you can camp in comfort no matter the season by:

  • Bringing plenty of layers and rain gear in the spring months when rainfall is higher
  • Packing plenty of sunblock and water during summer months when high temperatures can quickly lead to dehydration
  • Wear breathable fabrics that can be taken off during the autumn when the weather is less predictable
  • Invest in thermal clothing and plenty of heating when camping in the winter

If you do decide to camp in Scandinavia in the winter, check in with the campground first. You’ll want to stay in a caravan on the motorhome and should ensure that your heating is working correctly before hitting the road. Bear in mind that, when camping in the north during the summer, the sun does not set. This means you’ll want to bring some eye masks to drift off at the right time.

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being
Folks who live in colder countries like Norway and Sweden make good use of saunas and cold pools. Photo: Novavita

Saunas and Hydrotherapy

Folks who live in colder countries like Norway and Sweden make good use of saunas and cold pools. These can improve cardiovascular health and give people a much-needed break from the busyness of the natural world. They may also protect against conditions like dementia and reduce stress. Many saunas are located in remote locations far from busy urban city streets, too.

Scandinavians also regularly utilize hot tubs as a form of hydrotherapy. Folks who take retreats to cabins and campgrounds with hydrotherapy enjoy the full benefits of hot tubs, which include:

  • Lowered stress
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved sleep
  • Less joint stiffness and muscle pain

These benefits can be a real boon if you are planning a vacation to a rural Scandinavian area and want to make the most of the benefits of nature. By planning some time for sauna and hydrotherapy, you can tackle stress and ensure that you’re able to get a restful night’s sleep while away.

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being – Conclusion

Nature plays a central role in many Scandivian’s lives. Whether walking in the foothills or skiing down mountains, folks from Northern Europe know how to get the most from the natural world. You can follow suit by planning a trip to a country like Norway, Finland, Denmark, or Sweden that features hydrotherapy, outdoor recreation, and plenty of downtime.

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being
Ainsley Lawrence

The Role of Nature in Scandinavian Mental Health and Well-being, written dedicatedly for Daily Scandinavian by Ainsley Lawrence. Ainsley is a regular contributor to Daily Scandinavian. She is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. Ainsley is interested in better living. through technology and education. She is frequently lost in a good book.

Feature image (on top): © Peter van der Meulen / Unsplash

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