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What Is ‘Friluftsliv’? How This Norwegian Concept May Improve Heart and Sleep Health and Spark Joy

We could learn a thing or two from life in Norway.


Have you ever heard of the concept of “friluftsliv,” pronounced free-loofts-liv? It’s a Norwegian term that means “outdoor life,” and the idea is to spend time in nature as much as possible. Though we aren’t encouraging you to move out to a cabin in the woods and plant your own produce, we do think the people of Norway have a lot to teach us about life outdoors. In fact, scientific research shows that outdoor activities have tremendous benefits for your health. Here’s how to harness those benefits and take advantage of this beautiful spring weather.

To Improve Heart Health: Walk Briskly for 20 Minutes

For Norwegians, walking everywhere, whether it’s to a market or through a park, is a way of life. Now, a study in the European Heart Journal found that participants who picked up the pace as they walked, for as little as 20 minutes a week, experienced a lower risk of serious heart trouble than other participants. Why might this be? Speeding up (even for only a few minutes at a time) may reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and levels of bad fats. This keeps your heart in top shape.

To Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Issues: Drink More Water

A cool glass of water does more than help you beat the heat: In another study published in the European Heart Journal, adults between the ages of 45 and 66 who sipped six to eight cups of hydrating beverages daily experienced a significantly lower risk of heart trouble. Why does water help? Staying hydrated dilutes blood vessel–constricting salt in your body.

To Fall Asleep Faster: Enjoy the Sunlight

After a long winter with days as short as six hours, Norwegians love to get out and about in the sun once spring rolls around. And heading outdoors to soak up some rays delivers a surprising benefit: more sleep! A new study from the University of Washington suggests that basking in 60 more minutes of daylight than you usually do may help you fall asleep 30 minutes faster. Sun exposure re-syncs your body clock so you get drowsier earlier in the evening. Live in a cloudy area? This simple trick also works on overcast days since there are still enough of the sun’s rays poking through to have a sleep-boosting effect.

Also smart? Adopting a sunny outlook. Optimistic people may be more likely to get sound sleep that leaves them feeling refreshed the next day, a theory based on a study out of the University of Illinois. Researchers reveal that expecting things to go your way may reduce worry, which allows you to fully relax at night.

To Reduce Diabetes Risk: Take a Gardening Break

Happy news for people who love gardening, like Norwegians do: The hobby may ward off type 2 diabetes. A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that about 22 minutes a day of gardening may reduce your risk of developing the disease. While you may not notice it because you’re enjoying yourself, caring for plants keeps your weight down and builds muscle, which balances blood sugar to ward off diabetes.

Bonus tip: Eat what you grow. A study written about by Diabetes Self-Management suggests that eating 11 ounces of leafy greens or cruciferous vegetables daily (about 1.5 servings of raw spinach or broccoli) may curb diabetes risk. Non-starchy veggies reduce insulin resistance. Tip: Try blitzing broccoli and adding it to chilled split pea soup.

To Increase Joy: Take Pictures Outside

Norway has so many animals and plants to admire. And simply enjoying the wildlife near you may lift your spirits. The reasoning? A study published in People and Nature found taking 10 minutes to record what you’re seeing in nature, like taking photos of flowers, helps you focus on the world around you. This makes you feel more connected to nature, which spurs happiness.

To Boost Memory: Enjoy a Dip in the Pool

Although Norway is known for its chilly winters, it warms up enough in summer for people to enjoy dips in the ocean, mountain lakes, and fjords. Follow their lead by bobbing around in a lake, pool, or the ocean, and you may improve your memory while you’re wading. Scientists from Utah State University found that being submerged chest-deep in water may increase blood flow to the brain, helping memory centers work harder.

Another option: Stretch. 2020 research shows that 10 minutes of gentle stretching may improve recall. How? It increases circulation to the brain, which may boost mental energy.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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