It’s hard to have missed the world’s fascination with the Scandinavian lifestyle. Once mostly known for ABBA and IKEA, Northern Europe is now acclaimed for their effortless cool style, minimalist design and thrilling crime dramas like The Killing and The Bridge. Not to mention that Scandinavian countries rank pretty much every list, from happiest country in the world and best health care and education systems to gender equality.
So what can we learn from our friends in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland? Have a look at these 8 Scandinavian healthy habits we should steal from our Nordic neighbours.
1. Eat a Nordic Diet
Award-winning restaurants like Noma and Faviken have put the Nordic diet on the culinary map. With salmon fresh out of the ocean, fiber-rich root vegetables and an abundance of berries and mushrooms available, it isn’t hard to put a simple but delicious homemade meal on the table.
As it turns out, eating like a Viking is great for your health too. Following a Nordic diet can improve your insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels, lowers your blood pressure and helps you lose weight – all without giving up major food groups or counting calories.
Traditionally, the Nordic diet consists of omega-3-rich fatty fish, cabbages and slow-releasing carbs like oats and rye bread, complemented with forest fruits and fresh herbs like dill. But even if you don’t live in the lands of the midnight sun, you can easily adopt the Scandinavian food philosophy by using local and seasonal produce.
2. Get Hygge
The world’s obsession with hygge is what sparked everyone’s interest in the Scandinavian lifestyle. When Meik Wiking looked into what makes Danes the happiest people in the world, he discovered that hygge is the cornerstone of Danish living.
Hygge is an untranslatable term used to describe a moment or feeling of coziness. It’s the sensation when you’re cuddled up on the couch under a blanket with a cup of tea. It’s the warmth of lighting candles, knitted jumpers, comforting stews and screen-free Sundays. More than a trend, hygge refers to a way of life in which happiness comes from simple things that bring you comfort.
Getting cozy isn’t just, well, cozy. A lifestyle that revolves around a slower pace of living, feeling relaxed and connected and finding comfort during dark days lowers your stress levels, boosts your mood and supports your overall wellbeing.
Although sipping hot chocolate after a long walk is a great place to start, you can incorporate more hygge in your life by slowing down and making more time for the activities and people you love. Learn more about this Danish concept in The Little Book of Hygge or get inspired by this blog post on How to Hygge (Or: 29 ways to Actually Enjoy Winter).
3. Move Your Body Naturally
Not a fan of grueling yourself on the treadmill? Scandinavians generally lead an active lifestyle, but there’s little focus on burning calories. Instead of ‘working out’, they tend to do physical activities they enjoy, whether that’s hiking, swimming in the lake or putting on their skates. Moving your body is a natural part of life – including doing practical chores like cleaning, chopping wood and clearing snow.
And the cold, dark winters aren’t an excuse to stay on the couch either. On the contrary: Scandinavians make the most of the situation by enjoying skiing, langlaufing and ice skating. And as the Nordic saying goes: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
The takeaway? Find an activity you love doing – dancing, gardening, playing football – and build it into your schedule. Also make an effort to fit more natural movement into your days, like walking to the shops and cycling to work. Bonus points for moving your body outdoors! That way you also reap the benefits of fresh air, vitamin-D-producing sunshine and the nature around you.
4. Cold Exposure
When you think of Norway and Iceland, are the breathtaking fjords and glaciers the first things that come to mind? During winter, large parts of Scandinavia are covered with ice and snow. That may sound pretty chilly and uncomfortable, but being exposed to cold actually seems to have significant benefits for your health. It speeds up your metabolism, reduces inflammation and pain locally and boosts your sleep quality.
The good news is, you don’t have to plough through snow, take an ice bath or book a vacation to Lapland to benefit from cold exposure. Finishing off your daily shower with one minute of cold water and heading outdoors on winter days will do the trick too.
5. Embody Sisu
The harsh climate of Northern Europe has an unexpected side-effect: dealing with the discomfort of cold, dark winters help to build sisu. Sisu is the word that the Finnish use for the mental toughness you need in situations when everything seems to go wrong. It’s a combination of courage, resilience and grit, that gave Finnish soldiers during World War II the strength to force an overpowering Soviet army to a standstill.
We all face our share of hardship and challenges in life. Your ability to get through tough times and bounce back is key to lasting happiness. Luckily, resilience is a skill you can train, and sisu is something you can cultivate. According to Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, you can adopt an attitude of perseverance by doing activities that stretch your abilities. The sisu mindset also encourages you to reframing problems as learning experiences that unlock your strengths. So how will you embody sisu to persevere against all odds?
6. Live Aligned with Nature
When you live in Sweden, Norway or Finland, it’s almost impossible to not be connected to nature and your surroundings. With long, dark winters and midsummer night when the sun doesn’t set, one cannot help but live according to the seasons. And even in cities, you catch a glimpse of the vast Scandinavian landscape all around.
Instead of fighting the changing seasons, Scandinavian people embrace what nature and the climate has to offer. They stay warm and comfortable in winter with saunas, Nordic stews and hygge homes. They enjoy every ray of sunshine by heading outside on beautiful days. And what’s more local and seasonal than picking berries and foraging the woods near your home?
No matter where you are in the world, you can live more aligned with nature too. Even if you’re surrounded by concrete, you can get your daily nature fix by adorning your home with plants, growing fresh herbs in a window box or going to the park. You could tune into the seasons by planting bulbs and eating local, seasonal foods. Or even better, go forest bathing to reap the physical and psychological benefits from spending time among the trees.
7. Heat Therapy
The land of fire and ice is famous for its hot springs. Going to the sauna is an essential part of Finnish culture. These traditional practices don’t just warm you up on a freezing cold day, they also have a positive impact on your health.
Ever since the Egyptians, people have used hot water, steam and locally applied heat to treat pain and illness. Heat therapy increases your blood flow, making it easier for oxygen and nutrients to reach injured areas. Applied heat also improves the flexibility of your muscles. Studies show that regularly visiting a sauna boosts muscle recovery, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and promotes good skin.
Now of course there’s little more relaxing than going to the sauna, visiting a Moroccan hammam or getting a hot stone massage. But heat therapy can be as simple as curling up with a hot water bottle or heated cherry pit pillow. You could also mimic the effects of a sauna by dry brushing before taking a warm bath.
8. Live a Lagom Lifestyle
The concept of lagom might just be the reason why Sweden is named one of the best countries in the world to live in. Lagom means “not too little, not too much, just right.” It refers to a good work-life balance, with plenty of time for fika (the famous Swedish coffee breaks with pastries), Friday nights with friends and spending time outdoors. Lagom also means focusing on a few good-quality essentials you love instead of wasting time, energy and natural resources on junk food and fast fashion.
A lagom lifestyle counterbalances modern problems of too much stress, too much consuming, too much screen time. It reminds us that healthy living can be much easier than the picture that wellness blogs and social media paint. As the nursery rhyme by Wayne Fields goes: “The best six doctors anywhere, and no one can deny it, are sunshine, water, rest and air; exercise and diet.” So don’t get hung up on Instagram-worthy meals and trendy workouts when simple meals with unprocessed foods and moving your body naturally will also boost your health.
You can find out more about the Swedish art of balanced living in Lagom by Linnea Dunne.
Have you ever visited Northern Europe? Which Scandinavian healthy habits would you love to adopt?
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like:
- The 8 Best Health Tips From Around the World
- Taking an Ice Bath: What You Can Learn From Breathing & Cold Exposure Training
- 8 World-Class Tips for Traveling with Chronic Illness
This blog post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.