One of the most peculiar fitness trends making headway in Finland is the popularity of hobbyhorsing – using a toy horse’s head on a stick to recreate equestrian evens such as dressage and showjumping. Many Finnish practitioners claim to enjoy the sport because they can’t afford their own horse or keep one in an urban area, but it does also allow for more physical activity than horse riding.
Another strange Finnish sport that has been drawing international attention is wife-carrying, in which a man carries his wife (or any other woman he knows) over a series of obstacles. It sounds odd and perhaps even a little dangerous, yet it is all played for fun and is incredibly physically exerting.
Continuing Finland’s fondness for bizarre sporting events that are surprisingly good for your health, swamp soccer is soccer played in swamps or muddy fields. It is not for the faint of heart, as the mud adds a whole new layer of difficulty to an already challenging sport, yet it is popular enough to have its own championship in Finland, and plenty of players who meet up for games regularly.
The reindeer of Finnish Lapland are a symbol of the country and are still important for the identity, survival and trade of the area. It makes sense that there is an entire sport built around racing reindeer in sledges, somewhat similar to ancient chariot racing, except on ice. The annual championships in Inari draw thousands of spectators of the exhilarating sport, and racers choose their reindeer carefully. They may not look it, but reindeer can reach speeds of up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour.
Finland played a huge part in developing mobile-phone technology, and while the factories have since moved abroad, the achievements are still honoured with mobile-phone throwing contests, a sport somewhat similar to shot put. This is another fun and informal event which anyone can enter, so long as they can throw far enough.
Swimming in a pool cut out of a frozen lake has long been popular with Finland’s older population, as it has been practised in Finland for hundreds of years. Younger people in Finland are beginning to rediscover ice swimming and the health benefits it brings, and there are now thousands of ice-swimming holes throughout Finland every winter that are managed by volunteers. Taking a short dip in icy-cold waters helps to boost the immune system, increase circulation, release endorphins that prevent depression, burn calories, reduce stress and build up an immunity to cold weather. Even tourists have been giving ice swimming a try, almost as a test of their courage.
A combination of rhythmic gymnastics and dance, aesthetic group gymnastics was developed in Finland and Estonia back in the 1950s and is also experiencing a boost in popularity, with a world championship being held every year since 2000. Teams are judged just on the aesthetic value of their performance as well as on their balance, sense of rhythm and strength.
Finns love cycling, yet it is too dangerous to ride a regular bike during the winter when the ground is covered by ice and snow. They found a solution by developing fatbikes, which have thicker tyres with improved grip that can be used even in icy conditions. You will regularly see people riding fatbikes in Finnish cities during the winter, and even using them for cross-country cycling.
More Finnish cities are building open-air gyms in spots that are popular with joggers. These are small areas of exercise equipment built from the same weatherproof materials as playground equipment, for any passersby to use as they wish. These help to improve health and increase opportunities for exercise for those who can’t afford gym membership.
Forest bathing doesn’t literally mean taking a bath in a forest. It is actually a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku: taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest to improve physical and mental health. This can be done through hiking, jogging or cycling through a forest, although it is usually considered best to take it slowly in order to fully appreciate the forest atmosphere. It is becoming increasingly popular in the USA, and now in Finland as well, since 75% of the country is covered in forest and is perfect for forest bathing. It is especially important and beneficial for those who work indoors and feel cut off from nature, ideal for Finns who are increasingly moving away from traditional country living.