I believe that my Swedish upbringing has greatly influenced my perception towards health and wellness. Growing up in Sweden in the 80s instilled a natural and simple attitude towards health and fitness in me. I never once went on a diet in my teenage years, or even considered it, it just wasn’t a done thing. Instead I ate home cooked, well balanced meals and had a really active lifestyle, just like any other typical Swedish teenager, playing sports, riding my bike everywhere I went and skied and skated on the frozen lakes in winter.
According to Forbes Magazine, Sweden is the 2nd healthiest country in the world with an average life expectancy of over 80 years. It also has one of the lowest obesity rates in the Western world, half of that of Australia according to OECD. So it seems that the Swedes are doing something right.
I believe there are a few simple reasons that Swedes have this natural healthy lifestyle that we can learn from, being:
- An active lifestyle
- A healthy natural diet
- A love for the outdoors
- A positive attitude
An active lifestyle is part of the Swedish culture and much like in Australia we grow up playing sports, there’s even a school holiday break named “Sports Holiday” in February when many families goes skiing. I think the difference is that Swedes stay active as adults with lots of people going to the gym or belonging to a sports team. Swedes also love their bike riding and many ride their bike to work or use it as their main mode of transport. We also incorporate physical activity in our social life regularly with activities such as ice skating, skiing or hiking popular. This active outdoor lifestyle has a great effect not only on the body but also on the mind.
All that we need to do is to find half an hour in our 12 hour day to do some sort of exercise. However, 76% of Australian women struggle to spend the required 4% of their day being active. This means they miss out on the benefits of exercise such as increased bone density, increased muscle mass, slowed ageing process, reduced body fat, increased confidence and happiness.
Great grandparents still going strong
HEALTHY NATURAL DIET
Sweden has always had a well balanced food culture that limits unhealthy foods. There aren’t as many fast food and take way outlets and it’s not really cheaper eating a meal at McDonalds than it is to have lunch in a normal restaurant where you can get a “lunch of the day” usually consisting of a traditional home cooked meal with a side salad buffet. KFC doesn’t even exist in Sweden.
The Nordic Diet is making waves around the world being rich in berries, vegetables and oily fish. It’s based on traditional, seasonal and local ingredients. While I don’t label my “diet”, I just eat proper whole foods free of preservatives, excess sugar, colour and additives most of the time, I believe in the principles of this diet being:
1. Eat more fruit and vegetables (berries, cabbage, root veg, legumes, potatoes and herbs)
2. Eat more wholegrain (especially rye, oats and barley)
3. Eat more food from the seas and lakes
4. Eat Higher-quality meat, but less of it
5. Eat More food from wild landscapes
6. Eat Organic produce where possible
7. Avoid food additives
8. Eat more meals that are based on seasonal produce
9. Eat more meals that are home-cooked
10. Produce less waste
A midsummer feast
There are so many benefits of eating a healthy well balanced diet, you will look healthier but more importantly you will feel healthier with increased energy levels, stronger immune system, less stress and less risk of common diseases just to mention a few.
A LOVE FOR THE OUTDOORS
Swedes love the outdoors, as rainy and cold as it gets they live in harmony with nature. They are lucky in that the air is fresh and the water clean and there are plenty of forests and open fields. There is a law called “Allemans ratten” , basically meaning “the freedom to roam” or “everyman’s right” and is the public’s right to access privately owned land for recreation and excercise. So Swedes freely roam forests picking berries and hunting for mushrooms, something we all grew up doing and something I greatly miss living in Sydney.
Although Sweden doesn’t always have the perfect weather there is a saying I really like – “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes” (hmmm it does rhyme better in Swedish but you get the gist…). It always surprises me a bit when it rains here in Sydney, and it can rain for days on end even here, that the kids don’t go outside at school. They are simply not equipped for it, no gumboots or rain pants or a rain hat! In Sweden we always had to go outside for fresh air unless there was a massive thunderstorm, hail or -30c, I think I can count on one hand the times we got to stay inside. They even have childcare centres, “Ur och Skur”, sort of meaning “in all weather”, where the kids spend pretty much all of their time outside, no matter the weather or the season. Studies have shown that not only do the kids get to experience nature and the outdoors it’s also resulted in braver, more creative and healthier kids. So the importance of fresh air is installed in us from birth with babies left outside, warmly tucked up in their prams, for naps, even in winter.
Rain isn’t a deterrent for outdoor play for these two little Swedes
Although I never understood the number of health benefits associated with getting fresh air as a kid including improved digestion, blood pressure and heart rate, increased happiness, strengthening of immune system, cleaner lungs and increased energy and a sharper mind, I will always love to spend time outside be it on a Sydney beach or a forest in Sweden.
Enjoying an autumn day in the forest
Although Swedes can seem a bit shy and reserved when you first meet them they are generally polite, independent, calm, loyal, practical, positive and have a strong view of equality and great care for others. Swedes generally hate conflicts and believe that any conflict can be mediated and settled. Swedish people are well known for its liberalism, tolerance and acceptance. Sweden also has a great outlook on work life balance with only 1% of employees working very long hours according to the OECD Better Life Index compared to Australia where 14% of employees work very long hours. Swedes also seem to have nailed their time management skills as they are very punctual, always preferring to arrive 5 mins early rather than 5 mins late. Unfortunately a skill I seem to have lost over the years in Australia.
Two happy little Swedes
The power of a positive attitude can totally change your life. It’s proven that a positive mind leads to success and long term happiness as it helps you deal more easily with daily life. It brings optimism into your life, and makes it easier to avoid worries and negative thinking. Adapt it as a way of life if you seek to be happier, brighter and more successful.
So this is the approach that I take on health and fitness. It’s a natural part of my life, rather than something I feel I have to do or have to follow. I don’t “have to go to the gym” I go to the gym, I take opportunities to spend time outside and I love eating a well balanced diet. This is also the mentality that I aim to install in my clients in my coaching programs – “The Swedish Solution”. In my programs I encourage clients to make step by step lifestyle changes towards a lasting healthy lifestyle rather than going on a crazy diet for a short term fix.