Get outside and embrace ‘friluftsliv’ this winter

By Michele S. Byers

Friluftsliv might be hard to pronounce, but it is a concept to embrace this winter amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meaning “open-air life” in Norwegian, friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) is deeply ingrained in Nordic culture. Scandinavians are renowned for their love of the outdoors, no matter the season or weather. There’s even a popular saying: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”

At Scandinavian latitudes, where winter means scarce daylight and frigid temperatures, friluftsliv is an incredibly helpful attitude. Why not try it out this winter for the sake of our health and sanity?

After the first COVID outbreak this past spring, socializing outside with friends and family became a way of life for many. It was easy in the warm months to spend leisurely hours walking with friends, hanging out at parks and beaches, and dining outdoors.

But as winter’s chill sets in, a different mindset is needed to avoid either spending the next several months in isolation or spreading COVID-19 at indoor gatherings.

Friluftsliv is all about connecting with nature, either alone or socially. Numerous studies have shown that time spent outdoors boosts physical and mental health.

A 2019 study published in the journal “Nature” found that spending just two hours a week in natural environments like parks or green spaces increases happiness and feelings of well-being.

“According to United Nations listings, Scandinavian countries consistently rank as the happiest countries on Earth,” points out Oliver Luke Delorie, author of the book “Friluftsliv: Reconnect with Nature,” published earlier this year.

Friluftsliv is not limited to hard-core outdoor activities like winter camping in the backwoods, snowshoeing in deep powder, or gliding across a frozen fjord.

It’s a lifestyle choice of enjoying moments outdoors. Think lunchtime strolls with friends, bicycling around town, or bundling up and enjoying a steaming mug of cocoa in the snow.

The Norwegians even have a special word, utepils, for drinking a beer outdoors!

Here are some ideas for getting into the spirit of friluftsliv this winter:

• Dress for the weather, because you won’t have fun if you are cold and wet. Wear essentials like a warm parka, wool hat, snow-proof boots, longjohns and insulated gloves or mittens. By the way, outdoor gear makes great holiday gifts for those who will be joining you outside;

• Look for new parks, forests and trails to explore with friends. Hiking is great in cold weather and many hikers prefer it to the hot, humid conditions of summer. You will warm up quickly once you start moving, so make sure to dress in layers. This state we’re in has an incredible variety of trails in all regions and for all ability levels. And without leaves on trees, you will get better views of birds, wildlife and scenery.

• Summer is not the only time to visit the beach. New Jersey’s beaches – 130 miles of them, all nearly empty in winter – are great for walking. As a bonus, you will get soothing views of breaking waves and may be lucky enough to spot diving winter birds like loons and gannets, and marine mammals like whales, dolphins and seals.

• Make the outdoors the center of your social life. After warming up with a brisk walk, enjoy an outdoor picnic where it’s easy to avoid ants, flies and mosquitoes. If local lakes and ponds freeze over, organize a skating party. If it snows, try sledding or cross-country skiing … or have a snowman building contest. Toast marshmallows around a campfire, just as you would in summer. Remember to wear a mask and keep socially distanced. An added bonus: a face mask helps keep your face from freezing!

• If you have a yard, deck or patio, prep your outdoor spaces for winter entertaining. This would be the year to invest in improvements to extend the outdoor season, such as patio heaters, fire pits, warm seat cushions, blankets and hand warmers.

• If you are interested in meeting new people or going on guided adventures, consider joining an outdoor club. Organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club of New York-North Jersey and the Outdoor Club of South Jersey offer hikes and events in all seasons – all subject to COVID-19 precautions.

The state parks system also sponsors walks, hikes and events year round – see its calendar at https://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/calendar/index.html

• Check out conservation groups in your area for hikes and other events. For example, the nonprofit Raritan Headwaters Association hit it off the friluftsliv charts recently with a European-style lighted paper lantern parade through the meadows of its nature preserve in Bedminster at sunset.

Connect with nature this winter for your health and happiness.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at info@njconservation.org