After travelling to more than 30 countries, I still reserve that Norway is one of my favourites. Why? Well, seriously, look at these photos! Incredible, right? Also, whenever I visit my family there, I always leave feeling refreshed! Is this by happenstance? I don’t think so.
With Norway ranked #1 as the happiest country in the world and #11 as one of the world’s healthiest countries, I used my most recent time there to better understand what they’ve got going for them. Any short time of Google searching can give you some pretty basic answers, but what I really wanted to know was the locals’ perspective. Lucky for me, I happen to know a local pretty well as my brother snagged a gorgeous, brilliant Norwegian wife who happens to also have a BSc in Nutrition.
So, for this post, my sister-in-law Åse Birgitte from Halsos describes why she thinks Norway commonly rates as one of the healthiest countries in the world and how this is changing. For my sister (we dropped the ‘in-law’ ages ago!), there are three main reasons: family, food and the outdoors. Here are her responses to some (of the many) questions I had:
What top three reasons would you say explain why Norway is so healthy?
Åse explains ‘Traditionally we have a culture of being together as a family and wanting to be outside- no matter the weather. For all the holidays, many people go hiking in the mountains with their families and generally love being active. Because we grow up being active together, we love it. You build a love for being outside, fresh air and space around you –a love for moving your body. Most Norwegians- if they’re inside or relying on a car too much, they find it difficult.’
I’ve experienced this first-hand. One year I went to visit them for Easter. There was no Easter egg hunt or over-indulgence of chocolate. Instead, we went cross-country skiing and hiking. Here are some of my favourite photos from that incredible Easter.
Family time spent being active isn’t the only reason Norwegians are so healthy, there is also a lot of community and care that go into the food they eat. ‘We have a tradition and love for wholesome food. A lot of people are used to having their own garden and making things from that. We love whole grains, local fish and hunted game. We also have easy accessibility to wild, self-foraged food. I think that makes you healthy in body and mind because you have to go get it, work to preserve it and have much more enjoyment for the food- and connection to it. Also, traditionally most meals are cooked from scratch and eaten together as a family.’ When it comes to food, many Norwegians also are used to packing their lunches and eating out infrequently: ‘We grew up packing our school lunches of 2 slices of very whole grain bread with liver pate and beets every day.’
Have you seen a change in your lifetime for how healthy Norwegians are?
‘Norway has healthy traditions, but there has been a trend towards more unhealthy habits. Like everywhere else in the world, there are more fast, convenient and highly processed foods accessible and sedentary lifestyles becoming more common. Also, with families breaking up, there’s less set aside time for a meal together. The government is working to educate the new generations on why fast, highly processed foods and sedentary behaviour are unhealthy, but there is only so much a central government can do. I think it would be better if money was released into different, local health stations across Norway. To turn the negative trend is going to be difficult, but hopefully it’s something we can get everyone on-board with –not just those who already have resources. Hopefully we can reach those that aren’t interested in health and naturally motivated. We need resources to put into preventative care and to help empower pregnant moms, younger parents and youth with information and reasons why to keep the food traditions and stay active. If they don’t feel it for themselves, they won’t be able to keep it up so a key to motivating the new generation is to make it a fun, enjoyable and good thing. ‘
Despite these newer challenges, the happiness and health of Norway can still be felt in the traditions of family, food and the outdoors when there. If you aren’t in a position to travel to Norway and be refreshed by its happy, healthy culture, I can still help you to get a few of their traditions into your life! Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!
P.S. You can follow Åse Birgitte’s ‘Food for Life’ blog here! Also, Here are a few more of my fav photos of Norway that I’ve taken over the years -because it’s just too beautiful! You’re welcome. xx