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Stay Healthy the Scandinavian Way

In 2016, Scandinavian countries (including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland) ranked in the top 10 countries when it came to happiness. People within these societies were found to be more generous, healthy, and social. There are many ways Australians can improve their happiness and wellbeing by implementing Scandinavians practices into their daily lives.

Enjoy Scandinavian food

People from northern Europe eat quite a simple diet filled with healthy ingredients. A common Scandinavian diet would include:

  • Whole-grain breads (mainly rye)
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Fish rich in omega-3s and protein (including trout, herring, and mackerel)
  • Low fat dairy products
  • Locally sourced and easily accessible fruits, berries and vegetables (apples, pears, plums, root vegetables, legumes, and different kinds of cabbage).

“A diet rich in omega-3s, protein, and a variety of vitamins and nutrients will reduce the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Dr Ryan Harvey, the Deputy Medical Director at House Call Doctor.

Many Nordic recipes are very simple in comparison to other western nations and contain less sugar, less fat, more fibre, and twice as much fish and seafood.

Take some time out in the sauna

Visiting the sauna is a common social and cultural practice among Scandinavians.

“Sweating is how the body cools itself during physical activity. This can help regulate your mood (through a release of endorphins) and improve your cardiovascular system,” explains Dr Harvey.

Saunas have many potential health benefits. Some studies have suggested that long-term use of saunas can help the symptoms of asthma and chronic bronchitis, alleviate pain, improve joint mobility (for people with rheumatic disease), lower blood pressure, and reduce hypertension.

Go for a Nordic-style walk

The only difference between Nordic Walking and natural walking is the use of specially designed walking poles. The correct use of these poles allows the upper body to be more engaged during a walk, increasing the exercise’s intensity.

Nordic walking benefits the body by:

  • Placing the body in correct posture
  • Increasing blood circulation and metabolism
  • Providing a whole-body training suitable for any age group

People who participate in Nordic walking burn 50% more calories than their natural walking counterparts. It’s a great alternative for anyone who suffers from mobility issues or is looking for an aerobic, full-body exercise to do with their friends.

The overall goal of Nordic walking (and other social exercise) is to increase peoples physical and mental wellbeing.

Practice Danish hygge

The Danish word ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hooga’) means to create a warm atmosphere around you. When you practice hygge you enjoy the simple aspects of life and pay more attention to the people around you. An example of hygge would be sitting by a campfire with your family chatting about the positive parts of life.

Hygge is more than surrounding yourself with friends and family for a picnic or BBQ, it’s a philosophy. It teaches people to unwind, feel calm, and appreciate what really matters in life.

Dr Harvey claims, “Social interaction is an important factor in a person’s wellbeing. People who feel supported in their life by family and friends are less likely to have mental health issues and depression.”

Take more short work breaks

It’s common in Scandinavian countries to see schools and companies interrupted twice daily for coffee breaks, known as fika. Fika typically happens mid-morning and mid-afternoon to allow workers to come together for coffee and morning or afternoon tea. This practice is guaranteed by law to all employees nationwide.

Work life balance is key to maintaining a happy and healthy lifestyle. When employees are happy at work they are more motivated, less exhausted (physically, mentally, and emotionally), and are more productive.

“Lifestyle can impact a person’s health both positively and negatively. A person must consider their eating habits, exercise routine, work life, and recreational activities when assessing whether or not they are healthy.”


About the expert

Dr Ryan Harvey is the Deputy Clinical Director at House Call Doctor, an after-hours GP service available when regular clinics are closed. Dr Harvey is highly experienced in paediatrics, and has administered medical care to children living in remote overseas communities. He now works with many families, administering acute medical care when unexpected medical situations arise overnight.