You may have come across the term ‘Friluftsliv’ a lot lately. It is the next Scandinavian word after ‘Hygge’ that is teaching the rest of the world a thing or two about how to live a more happy and healthy life. No idea what it means? You’ve come to the right place!
What does ‘Friluftsliv’ mean?
Fri – lufts – liv directly translates as Free – air – life. (Freedom to/of life) – but this doesn’t explain much about why it is catching on.
The best description I have come across is this;
“Friluftsliv, first and foremost, is about feeling the joy of being out in nature, alone or with others, feeling pleasure and experiencing harmony with the surroundings.”
– Dahle ‘Simple life’ Isberg and Isberg
However there are a couple of other descriptions which help give the bigger picture;
”A philosophical lifestyle based on experiences of the freedom in nature and spiritual connectedness with the landscape”
”Human beings establishing, forming and believing in a friendship with nature.”
Why is embracing Friluftsliv important?
It is only in recent years, with the rise of industrialisation, convenience and sedentary jobs, that walking in nature has become less natural and more of a leisure ‘activity’. However the benefits of spending time outdoors for both mind and body are widely accepted. In fact, 90 percent of Swedes feel that spending time in nature makes everyday life more valuable. Research shows that people living near green areas get out and into nature more often and that people who visit green areas often, feel less stressed regardless of gender, age, social and economic position in society.
The rewards are instant. After just 5 minutes in the woods your blood pressure drops and the stress hormones in your blood decrease. Other health benefits include; stronger bones and joints, increased muscularity and mobility, obesity control, improved sleep, increased resistance to infection, higher stress tolerance, lower risk of heart disease, better concentration and increased motor skills. Getting outside can combat anxiety and depression and can help people feel less lonely, especially if getting outside allows them to connect with others.
Being in nature can distance you for a while from the demands of everyday life and allow you to cope better with stressful situations when you return. Another benefit to consider is that walking is a more eco-friendly way to travel and allows you to experience a place in a unique way.
How is Friluftsliv incorporated in Swedish Culture?
In Sweden, we have a strong tradition of spending time outdoors, with hiking being a popular activity. Organisations have sprung into action to keep this tradition alive in the face of urbanisation; The Swedish Tourist Association and the Scouts to name a couple. These organisations strive to bring Swedes of all ages into nature, and not just the richest in society.
Sweden also has 30 national parks and 4000 nature reserves – most of them with well marked trails, visitor centers and digital information helping visitors to have access to nature. During longer holidays swedes love to go hunting, fishing, biking, running or hiking in more remote areas – in the mountains, archipelago or forest areas. With friends, family or alone with oneself. An increase in paid leave over the years and cheaper accommodation becoming available has made getting outdoors more accessible for all.
All schools are obliged (skollagen) to have a certain amount of hours weekly and yearly dedicated to physical education and outdoor activities. In addition to that, many of above mentioned volunteer organisations offer a wide range of activities where children can increase their skills and knowledge of being outdoors in their spare time. This is particularly important for children who do not have parents who are engaged in outdoor activities.
Friluftsliv is also fundamental right in Sweden, made possible by ‘Allemansrätten’ or the Right of Public Access (to nature). To the envy of many other countries across Europe and the rest of the world, thanks to Allemansrättem, everyone can move freely in Swedish nature with very little in the way of restriction.
As long as you do not disturb and do not destroy you can freely experience Sweden’s countryside, whether you are hiking, jogging, bicycling, riding or even skiing. There are a few rules, but they are simple to remember:
- You can pitch a tent for up to two nights as long as you don’t bother the property owner or cause damage to the natural environment.
- You are allowed to pick wild berries, flowers and mushrooms. You can also collect fallen branches and dried brush for making a fire. But you need to always be aware of not harming nature, plants or animals.
- Leave no litter.
To read more about Allemansrättens privileges and obligations (in english) visit the HSR website.