Norwegian youth sit on the ground while spending time outdoors on a lake.

Norwegian outdoor living concept ‘friluftsliv’ could be valuable pandemic coping strategy

Amid the coronavirus, socializing outside with friends and family has been a valuable way to stay connected with people. But as the weather cools in many parts of the US, it may be time for Americans to spend time outside in the cold.

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During the pandemic, socializing outside with friends and family has been a valuable coping mechanism for many.

In the summer, that’s easy to do. When the weather is nice, dining or exercising outdoors doesn’t require much of an adjustment. 

But for much of the US, winter is coming soon. Some public health experts worry that Americans will turn to indoor social activities when the temperature drops, prompting fears that the cold could also be accompanied by an uptick in coronavirus cases

Luckily, there’s an alternative. As the weather cools, it might be time for Americans to embrace the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv — or spending time outdoors, even when it’s freezing.

“We have cold winters,” says Lasse Heimdal, the secretary general of Norsk Friluftsliv, a coalition of Norwegian outdoor groups based in Oslo. “We have long, dark seasons and we cannot stay inside all the time.”

"We have long, dark seasons and we cannot stay inside all the time."

Lasse Heimdal, secretary general, Norsk Friluftsliv  

Heimdal explains that friluftsliv doesn’t just mean participating in outdoor winter sports like skiing or ice skating. Even enjoying a cup of tea bundled up in a parka will do. 

“It’s all kinds of activities,” he said. “It’s not just connected to physical activity, but nature experiences in a wide range of [contexts].”

‘Kind of a necessity’

The concept of friluftsliv is linked to “freedom to roam” laws in Norway and throughout Scandinavia that permit people to access, forage from and even camp on most natural sites — even if they’re privately owned — as long they observe some regulations.

This idea is ingrained enough in society that many Scandinavian employers “incentivize staff to spend time outside during their working hours,” as the BBC noted in 2017. Heimdal says that his workplace frequently holds meetings or social gatherings outside.

Related: The future of our pandemic

For Americans interested in incorporating friluftsliv into their own routines, Heimdal’s first tip is to take heed of a popular Norwegian saying: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”

To that end, he recommends setting yourself up for success and wearing weather-appropriate gear, including a warm coat, gloves, hat, and good shoes, to keep yourself warm and dry when venturing out.

“We dress up and go out, because it’s kind of a necessity for a lifestyle here up north,” he said.

Another tip is to start simple and make it a group activity, while observing social-distancing requirements, of course.

“You don’t have to buy a lot of equipment or expensive things to do it. Use the nature close to where you live. And bring some friends or family and share the nature experience with someone else,” Heimdal said.

Spending time outdoors, he believes, yields a plethora of benefits.

“It’s social, it’s healthy,” he adds. “It’s good for your body and good for your mind.”

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