Recently, there has been a growing trend to follow our Scandinavian friends in their wellness traditions. First, we had hygge – the concept of staying warm and cosy, with lighted candles, comfy blankets and friends to share our self-care rituals with.
But as delightful as this all sounds, the Scandinavians also love the great outdoors and embrace their tradition of ‘friluftsliv’ (pronounced free-loofts-liv), the expression literally translates as “open-air living”.
This is not a new concept and is well ingrained in their culture, so much so that many businesses are giving employees the chance to work around their passions – including the great outdoors – more regularly.
For mind and body
This seems like a concept that we should all embrace in a world where many of us are sedentary and office based, or hunched over mobile phones and tablets, idly scrolling through social media – something that research says is bad for our wellbeing. And it's something so simple that we can all make it a part of our regular routine.
More and more studies are looking at the health benefits of going outdoors and spending some of our free time in green spaces. Green is the colour of Nature and the earth. It is balance and harmony in essence and possesses a soothing influence upon both mind and body. In fact, even simply looking at the colour green can calm our fragile nervous systems, relaxing the body, slowing the breath and cleansing the lung of pollutants.
The research has discovered that spending time outdoors can lower our risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive impairment as we age, and even some types of cancer, as well as vitamin D deficiencies.
Forrest bathing – intentionally spending time in amongst the trees – has been shown to have stress-reducing, anaesthetic and even anti-carcinogenic effects as the biochemicals released by the trees interact with our central nervous system.
The more we are connected to nature, the more we tend to be conscientious, agreeable, open and creative, and new research from the University of Hong Kong found children who were close to nature were less distressed and hyperactive and struggled with fewer behavioural and emotional difficulties.
Let’s go outside
Wrapping up warm for long weekend walks, or lacing up your trainers for an early morning run or cycle through the woods are also easy ways to reap the physical and mental benefits of the outdoors. In fact, as long as you're surrounded by the great British countryside, getting moving and breathing in fresh air – anything goes!
There are many ways of trying to incorporate nature into your day. A quick stroll around the block at lunchtime can take just 5 minutes but will clear your head and allow you to get some much-needed fresh air.
Walking instead of driving if you are going short distances is better for both you and the environment. How about meeting a friend for lunch in the park instead of the coffee shop, or walking a dog (yours or borrow a friend's) to lift your mood and release oxytocin (the love hormone) after a very busy or stressful day.
What if you can’t get outside all that easily, for example, you have mobility issues? Actually, you can still benefit from this practice. Scientific research studies have shown a view of nature can be beneficial so that even sitting next to a window can good for your physical and mental health.
Opening a window and sitting in the sun is one of the best ways to get vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin – which will help to strengthen bones, boost your immune system, calm the nervous system, improve brain function, and even aid with depression.
Office workers who have a view of trees and flowers felt their jobs were less stressful than those who workplaces were limited to a view of buildings. And those with a nature view were less likely to consider quitting their job too.
Give it a go
Opening a window during a downpour can increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, lifting our mood and making us more alert. Why not give it a try? Open your nearest window, or even just look through it. Take a deep breath and pause to look at the view. Let your gaze settle on something green, like a tree, or even stare up at the sky. Notice the colours, pause, and take another deep breath.
Did you feel a difference in your mood, breathing or stress levels? This simple practice can slow your heart rate, reduce stress and increase your focus. As you gather your thoughts, make an effort to be more mindful throughout your day. You’ll be more connected, and maybe even a little happier.
And the best bit … this exercise took less than a minute, without any technology, vitamins or gym memberships … amazing!
“And into the Forrest I go, to lose my Mind, and find my Soul.”