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Scandinavians are considered to be some of the happiest people on the planet. Countries like Iceland, Denmark and Sweden have consistently ranked in the top 5 of the most livable countries in the world. This high index is the result of extraordinary high life satisfaction, personal health, and social cohesion. There are numerous things we can pick up from Scandinavian traditions to improve our own lives. We take a look at what you can start doing today.
Among Scandinavians, visiting the sauna is a very important part of the local culture. When enjoying the sauna you experience various health benefits, such as flushing toxins out of your body, inducing better sleep and improving cardiovascular performance. Sweating actually forces your body to burn calories. Don’t forget to take a cold shower or jump into an ice bath when coming out of the sauna. Besides feeling great, this closes your pores and actually cues your body to conserve heat, boosting circulation and adding to a sauna’s cardiovascular benefits.
Exercise in Scandinavia is a way of life. This is not just saying that people work out regularly, but more that physical exercise is inserted seamlessly to the Nordic peoples daily routines. For example, almost 30 percent of Danes and Swedes living in cities cycle regularly to and from work. This should not be considered an extraordinary feat, as the average daily commute for most city dwellers is about 8 miles.
Even simple things like walking can compensate for gaps in your running schedule. 50 percent of Swedes enjoy regular long walks as either part of their daily activities or as a form of relaxation. Walking is an activity for all ages and physiques with great health benefits. Normal walking is great, but you can turn it into a more demanding exercise by practicing Nordic Walking. This exercise, originating from Finland, basically adds the use of modified ski poles to walking in an effort to force your upper body to move as well.
In Sweden, joining a sports club usually happens at an early age and continues on well into retirement. Besides the benefits of regular exercise, committing to any team-based exercise considerably increases the chances of staying motivated and continuing to exercise for a long period of time.
People in the north of Europe traditionally consume a lot of fatty fish, rye bread, and root vegetables which have been shown to offer excellent health benefits. Nordic dishes tend to have fewer ingredients than their southern counterparts. Fish such as herring, mackerel, and trout are rich in protein, omega-3s, and antioxidants, while rich selections of root vegetables and low GI rye bread quell the appetite quickly. This reduces the risk of overeating, which is often the risk with other lighter cuisines.
Average office productivity is closely tied to workers motivation and capability to focus. Focusing requires mental effort, and mental effort drains your energy reserves. Scandinavians have developed a tradition of short breaks during the work day. In Sweden this tradition is called Fika, or coffee break. Taking frequent short breaks while working helps you to stay motivated, boosts morale, and increases productivity when you return to your task. In the long run, taking regular breaks every 30-60 minutes creates less stress and increases work satisfaction.
Try to remember that you are not living to go to work every morning. This can be difficult for certain people, as modern society equates professional life with personal life. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being passionate about your profession, but you must remember to take time off regularly. Scandinavia has one the most generous holiday allowances in the world, stretching up to 5 weeks, compared to the U.S where the figure is about 9 days per year.
Scandinavian cuisine might not be everybody’s cup of tea. The fatty and often unappetizing foods associated with Nordic dishes – such as egg butter, fermented herring, and goose blood soup – might not make you run off searching for the nearest Nordic food store. However, the health benefits enjoyed by the Scandinavian diet can be enjoyed in other ways as well. Traditional Nordic cuisine is healthy because it is essentially a low carbohydrate, high protein diet.
One of the reasons Denmark is considered among one of the happiest countries in which to live can be attributed to the Danish tradition of Hygge. Hygge has no direct translation in the English language but could be roughly translated into calm moments for yourself and others. A key element for surviving the long dark Danish winters, Hygge is used as a practice to give time for yourself, creating a space where you feel comfortable – whether be it curled up on a couch with a good book, or cooking dinner with good friends. The important thing to take away from the concept of Hygge is that whatever you do, it must be comfortable for yourself and considerate of others.
Scandinavia, half covered in polar climate, is a place where temperatures can plummet to -22 degrees. The unforgiving weather, however, does not stop the Finns, Danes, and Swedes from being active. In Sweden, approximately 50% of the population partakes in regular cardiovascular activity during the long and grueling winter months. This form of training has been shown to have some very important health benefits. Exercising in cold weather burns more calories, strengthens further your heart, lungs and circulatory system, and helps to prevent SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is far more common in winter.