Friluftsliv (pronounced froo-leets-live) is a Swedish word that roughly translates to "fresh air life". It's the cultural tradition of prioritising time in nature. Hot on the heels of hygge, (the Danish custom of embracing the cold, enjoying time indoors and creating a cosy space for friends and family) and lagom (the Swedish philosophy of finding joy in moderation and balance), friluftsliv is the latest Scandi lifestyle trend gaining traction beyond its country of origin.
"Nordic people have always known that activities outdoors are crucial for your health. So friluftsliv is a very important tradition," says Mathias Johansson, a spokesperson for the Sydney's Swedish Club. "These days most people work indoors, and travel back and forth to work in cars or public transport. To make sure you get fresh air, you have to deliberately plan activities outdoors. It’s a very important part of Swedish culture."
The science of fresh air
There's certainly plenty of research to suggest embracing friluftsliv is good for our health. A study by the University of East Anglia last year looked at data from 20 countries involving 290 million people and revealed exposure to green space reduced the risk of several serious health problems. "We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration," says the study's lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett. "People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people's levels of salivary cortisol -- a physiological marker of stress."
Go play outside
In Sweden, friluftsliv is so important that some childcare centres market themselves as prioritising outdoor play. "They are called 'ur och skur dagis', the translation would be 'rain or shine daycare'. The kids play outdoors every day in rain, snow or sunshine," says Mathias."We also have a very popular saying that goes 'there is no bad weather, only bad clothes', which essentially means as long as you dress appropriately you can do things outdoors whatever weather." Because the climate in Sweden is extremely cold for much of the year, getting outdoors year-round takes serious commitment. "In summer the outdoor activities explode in Sweden. Everyone wants to be outside if the weather permits," says Mathias. "People are light and sun-deprived and go nuts to catch up!"
Embracing the concept of friluftsliv is certainly much easier from a climate perspective for us here in Australia. But being spoilt with glorious weather for much of the year means we often take it for granted. "In Australia, it’s easy to be outdoors and lots of social activities are done in the park or on the beach, like meeting up with friends for a BBQ and a few beers," says Mathias. "Although there is some of this in Sweden as well picnics during the few summer months, it would not really be considered friluftsliv unless you say it with irony." So this year, we're vowing to spend more time outdoors (without wine or beer). After all a bit of fresh never hurt anyone, in fact, science now suggests it does us a world of good.