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Norwegians have a concept called “friluftsliv” (pronounced free-lofts-liv). Translated, it means “open-air living”, and describes how much they value spending time outdoors or in remote locations for overall well-being, mind and body. Norway doesn’t always have beautiful weather, either. Summers can bring pouring rain. Winters are freezing cold and snowy. However, a common Norwegian expression explains, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” This concept is more than just an occasional walk outdoors. It’s a lifestyle of regularly spending time outdoors, away from technology and in any weather.
Our government estimates that the average American spends 90% of their life indoors. As we age, that percentage often increases as our level of physical activity decreases. Spending time surrounded by nature and open air is more than a fun pastime. To all people, not only Norwegians, it’s a vital component to physical, mental and emotional health. Spending time outside can offer numerous health benefits:
- Being outdoors may boost immunity: Phytoncides are airborne compounds emitted by plants and trees. Phytoncides help protect trees and plants from harmful insects and germs. Scientists believe that breathing in these compounds increases white blood cell levels in humans, which can then help fight off infections and illness.
- Being outdoors helps the body heal: in 2005, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied spinal surgery patients. Patients who were exposed to natural light experienced less pain and took fewer pain medications during their recoveries than those who were not exposed to light. The best way to experience natural light is to go outside.
- Being outdoors may be mood elevating: Studies have linked natural light to improved moods. Being outdoors has been linked to improvement in depression, seasonal affective disorder, and other mental health issues. Physical activity is also mood boosting, as it stimulates the body to produce endorphins. Going outside requires getting out of your chair, walking, and moving. Outdoor activities are generally more active than indoor activities, offering a double benefit of natural light exposure and physical exertion of the body.
There are many outdoor activities to enjoy. Developing a habit of spending time outdoors doesn’t have to mean remote camping trips and intense hikes in the middle of nowhere. It can start in your backyard. If you have fallen into the habit of a sedentary lifestyle, you might feel like most sports and outdoor activities are too much for you to handle. It’s okay to start small. Bundle up and walk to the mailbox. Do some light gardening, or take a walk around the block. Even if you can only manage standing on your front porch breathing deeply, your body will benefit from it. Like everything, getting your body used to outdoor physical activity will take time and effort. It takes consistent choices to develop a habit.
Every winter, we discuss ways to avoid the cold & flu season and stay mentally healthy. This winter we have the added physical health concerns and mental strain of COVID 19 and social distancing practices. Perhaps this winter is the perfect time to add friluftsliv to our daily lives. Be well, friends, and consider spending a little time outside, today.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.