5 healing benefits of being in nature (according to Japanese and Norwegian traditions)

Ever feel stressed or tired from the busy modern world?

There’s good news: spending time in nature can help.

From the vast, majestic landscapes of Norway to the tranquil forests of Japan, two practices, though miles apart in origin come from a singular belief: nature heals.

Meet ‘friluftsliv’, the Nordic philosophy of open-air living, and ‘shinrin-yoku’, the Japanese art of forest bathing.

Beyond mere outdoor activities, they guide us towards a deeper connection with the world around us, offering a salve for our modern-day stresses.

This article explores how they can not only enrich our lives but also cultivate health, happiness, and overall wellbeing.

1. Stress-buster

Ever felt that instant calm when you step into a forest, or just sit by a lakeside? There’s a reason for that!

Nature has this uncanny ability to lower our cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Both Norwegians and the Japanese have unlocked nature’s secret to melting away stress. In Norway, where kids are often found playing outside for up to 80% of their day, the focus is on constant immersion in the great outdoors.

Meanwhile, in Japan, they’ve mastered the art of “shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing, which involves taking leisurely walks in the forest to soak in the atmosphere.

Both practices centre on letting nature’s tranquillity wash over you to lower those pesky cortisol levels.

Regularly embracing friluftsliv or shinrin-yoku is about consistently immersing in nature and letting Mother Earth work her magic on our frazzled nerves.

So, next time you’re feeling the weight of the world, take a leaf out of their book.

2. Boosts physical wellbeing

Outdoor activities mean moving your body, and moving your body is always a good idea.

The Norwegians, with hiking being almost a national hobby, see outdoor activities as both leisure and exercise.

Whether it’s a brisk walk, a challenging hike, or a leisurely paddle, friluftsliv encourages you to be active. In fact, hiking is such a popular pastime in Norway that it’s almost considered a national hobby! You’ll be so engrossed in the scenic beauty around you that you won’t even realize you’re burning calories.

The Japanese, through forest bathing, embrace slow, mindful walks, focusing on the sensory experience of nature. While the pace might differ, both cultures prioritize moving the body in nature to improve physical health. 

3. The ultimate vitamin D fix

Sun-soaking is essential for Norwegians, especially with their long, dark winters. This connection with daylight optimizes their Vitamin D intake.

Even in places with long, dark winters like Norway, making the most of daylight hours is crucial. Engaging in friluftsliv encourages Norwegians to soak up essential vitamin D from the sun, which not only strengthens bones but also boosts the immune system and mood.

And if they can do it in their chilly climate, so can we!

While forest bathing in Japan might not necessarily focus on sun exposure, the practice of being amongst trees, which release beneficial compounds called phytoncides, has its own set of health benefits.

4. Improved sleep and circadian rhythms

Thanks to our modern, tech-filled lives, our sleep cycles have gone haywire. But spending more time outdoors and less time with screens can help recalibrate that internal clock. Exposure to natural light during the day and the calming effects of nature lead to better sleep.

Nature has a calming effect, whether you’re in Norway or Japan. Engaging with the outdoors resets our internal clocks. Norwegians, by making the most of their daylight hours, align their body clocks naturally.

Japanese forest bathers, by immersing themselves in the tranquillity of wooded areas, often find improved sleep from the reduced stress and increased calm.

5. Enhanced creativity and mental clarity

Whether it’s the expansive landscapes of Norway or the serene forests of Japan, nature offers a refuge from the digital clutter.

Both friluftsliv and shinrin-yoku serve as a detox for the mind, giving it room to breathe, ponder, and rejuvenate, sparking creativity and clarity.

Though continents apart, the Norwegian friluftsliv and Japanese shinrin-yoku both underscore the universal truth of nature’s healing touch. Nature is not just a place to visit; it’s home.

And by embracing it, we unlock a treasure trove of health and happiness benefits.

Embracing the Norwegian secret of friluftsliv or shinrin-yoku isn’t just about hopping on a plane to Scandinavia and Japan (though that sounds lovely). It’s about adopting a lifestyle choice that has stood the test of time, offering countless health and happiness benefits.

So, whether you’re planning a mountain trek or just stepping out into your backyard, take a moment to soak in the outdoors. Every breath of fresh air is a step closer to a healthier, happier you.

Whether you’re closer to the fjords of Norway or the mystical forests of Japan, or even if you’re smack in the middle of a bustling city, there’s a piece of nature waiting for you.

This weekend, I challenge you to take a page from these age-old practices.

Venture out. Breathe deeply. Take that forest bath or that mountaintop stroll and let nature guide your path to wellbeing!

Jeanette Brown

Jeanette Brown

I have been in Education as a teacher, career coach and executive manager over many years. I'm also an experienced coach who is passionate about supporting people in finding real meaning and purpose in their lives, building a resilient, grounded inner self and achieving their desired goals.

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