Oh, Those Healthy Norwegians

Norway is gearing up for 2025, designated as a year of friluftsliv, an outdoor festival from north to south
Norway is gearing up for 2025, designated as a year of friluftsliv, an outdoor festival from north to south

Torn ligaments and meniscus. Heart attack. Heart valve replacement surgery. A respiratory illness requiring oxygen. A gall bladder attack. Waitlisted for heart ablation surgery. Pulmonary hypertension. No sense of taste from chemo. Health issues affecting family and friends that we heard about—all in the space of just one week!

How are you?

We’re asking on World Health Day, celebrated every year on April 7.

Here’s hoping you’re well. For as the philosopher Henri Frédéric Amiel said:

In health there is freedom. Health is the first of all liberties.

Canada’s not scoring so well on health. In a study of the world’s healthiest countries conducted last year by CEO Magazine, Canada ranked 15th.

In studies of world health, you can always count on Norway being in the top ten. (For healthcare systems, its latest ranking is #7 while Canada is down in 32nd place.) Here’s what the CEO Magazine study had to say about Norway:

As if we needed more proof that Scandinavia slays in the health department, Norway makes an appearance in this year’s list thanks to clean air and water, high life expectancies (a little over 83 years), and low homicide rates (0.6 percent, compared to the world average of 3.7). We suspect the country’s jaw-dropping landscapes might improve life a little bit, too.

My jaw dropped when I realized we hadn’t done a blog about Ryten Mountain, our favourite hike on the Lofoten Islands in Norway. But like the fleeting weather on that hike, my jaw lifted into a grin when I realized I could use a Norwegian word I especially like: friluftsliv.

The Guardian beat me to it.

In an article about friluftsliv last September, Rachel Dixon wrote:

The term was coined by the playwright Henrik Ibsen in his 1859 poem On the Heights, although the concept is much older. Its literal translation is “free-air life”, but Ibsen used it to convey a spiritual connection with nature. To modern Norwegians, it means participating in outdoor activities, but also has a deeper sense of de-stressing in nature and sharing in a common culture…

A survey in June by the market research company Kantar TNS found that 83% are interested in friluftsliv, 77% spend time in nature on a weekly basis and 25% do so most days…

This nature-induced wellbeing could be one reason why Norway ranks among the happiest countries in the world. It came seventh in the UN’s World Happiness report in 2023.

Before we arrived to the Lofoten, our Airbnb host, Lynnée, sent us suggestions for what to do there. One was:

Hike to the top of Ryten mountain. Ryten is the peak above Kvalvika beach and a moderate hike.  The views are spectacular. http://www.68north.com/outdoors/hiking-ryten/. The trailhead is a 10 minute drive from my house.

We started the hike from Fredvang on the northeastern side of the island of Moskenesøya, two bridges and a few islands away from Lynnée and Jon’s place in Ramberg.

As we’ve mentioned before, by law, Norwegians have a longstanding freedom: the right to roam, regardless of who owns the land.

The farmer, whose land the parking lot for the Ryten trail is on, charges 50NOK (~Cdn$6.50) for parking during offseason, 100NOK in high season. Annually, about 30,000 people from all over the world hike this trail, one of the most popular in the Lofoten. So, he’s got a pretty good gig.

This being Norway, we were not alone on the trail. Even in mid-September at 3:30 in the afternoon when we started out. Even though the waning light had weathered to cold gray, freezing into sleet white as we climbed beyond the farm meadow to the mountain trail, boardwalks covering boggy areas, chains to help you manoeuvrer over rocky bits.

Friluftsliv!  At the top (543m), the linen sheet of fog lifted, the sun blazed the autumn grass into a field of amber and illumined Kvalvika beach into a startling green.

Research by Dr. Qing Li, the world’s expert on the benefits of nature, shows that even being outside for two hours can lead to multiple benefits. Blood pressure lowers. Blood sugar levels drop. Memory improves. Anxiety decreases. Immune systems strengthen. Deep sleep lengthens. Cortisol production decreases. A cure, I would say, for many ills.

Almost all of our hiking is when we’re on holidays, not on the dark and dreary rainforest trails around home that remind me of the Hansel-and-Gretel’s black forest. And while we walk a lot in Vancouver, it’s nowhere near two hours a day. Time for more friluftsli.

Navigation

Brown, Lisa. “Which are the healthiest countries in the world for 2023?” CEO World.  December 21,  2023.. The study pulled data from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Division, the World Bank and the Lancet.

Dixon, Rachel. “The Norwegian secret; how friluftsliv boosts health and happiness.” The Guardian. September 27, 2023.

Morton, Caitlin and Legrave, Katharine. “These are the healthiest countries in the world according to a 2023 study.” Conde Nast Traveler. September 28, 2023

Norsk Friluftsliv.

Right to Roam rules in Norway.

State of Health in the EU Norway. OECD .2023

8 Responses

  1. Thank you so much. Breathtaking photos. I can hardly wait to be in Norway this summer. I also enjoyed all of your references and the confirmation that being in nature is so good for us. We could certainly learn from the Norwegians.

    Karol

    1. You’ll also get to see the new library in Oslo, which was being built while we were there, and the new Edvard Munch Museum…

  2. Nice looking mountains and sea scapes.
    Indeed. The Canadian government could learn much from other countries, unfortunately listening is not one of there strong points. Hard to learn or improve if you do not listen.
    Cheers

    1. Tone deaf to reality. It gets harder to follow the advice of John Berger (author of Ways of Seeing) that staying calm is a form of resistance.

  3. Beautiful country and the Norwegians are good at managing their wealth (oil and gas). Looking forward to our trip in September.

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