When I lived in Indiana, a curious thing happened every year around the time when the Thanksgiving turkey was in the books and the morning frost began to drape the neatly mowed small-town lawns. The drop in temperature and gradual loss of daylight seemed to signal that it was time for outdoor activities to come to a close and long-term hibernation to set in. Winter was a season that people steeled themselves to endure rather than enjoy.
I know this phenomenon isn’t unique to Indiana. Something about winter just tends to put us in survival mode. While summer is usually easy to love (unless you live in a climate where summers are oppressively hot and humid), getting outside in the cold simply takes a bigger commitment – and decidedly more gear. But we need the outdoors just as much during the cold months as we do during the balmy sun-bathing season, if not more. The beauty of the Scandinavian friluftsliv tradition is that it calls on us to embrace the outdoors in all seasons and I know you can too. If you’re having a hard time motivating yourself to get outside in the winter, this one is for you!
I grew up on a latitude where winters are cold, wet and extremely dark. To get my winter mojo on, I have a strategy based on the three As: Attitude, Adaptation and Activity. I’ll walk you through each one.
So much of our aversion to winter is in our heads. I used to not care for winter until I realized how deeply I depended on daily outdoor time all year round for my mental health. Research has even showed that a daily one-hour walk can be an effective treatment against Seasonal Affective Disorder. But do we really need another scientific study to prove the many benefits of nature on our mental and physical health in order to get our butt off the couch and out the door? I think not. Your body already knows this and instinctively craves the outdoors, now all you’ve got to do is convince your mind. Make a commitment to go outside every day, regardless of the weather, even if it’s just for 15 minutes in the beginning. If the weather is anything but inviting, feel free to complain about it but don’t let it affect your determination. Some days, the best motivation can be to think of how good you’ll feel when you come back inside, and that’s OK too.
Adjust your clothing and equipment for the season and weather at hand. You don’t need to have all the latest and greatest gear to enjoy winter but it does help to have a basic wardrobe of clothes that will keep you dry and warm. A pair of wool socks, an all-weather parka, warm boots, shell pants or insulated pants and a hat and mittens will go a long way if you plan on staying active outside in the winter. Add some thermal long underwear on the coldest days and you’re golden. Adaptation is also about being flexible with location and activities depending on the weather. If you just got hit by a Polar Vortex, a brisk walk around the neighborhood is probably a better choice than a 10-mile hike into unknown territory.
Staying physically active is key to warding off the cold and will give you the most health benefits for your bucks. But what you do is less important than the fact that you do it. You don’t need to plan for a packed agenda or grand adventures to enjoy friluftsliv – the act of being outside and connecting with nature is enough. Find the places that speak to you in your nearby area, ideally ones that you can get to on foot – and return to them often. As you become connected to these places, you’ll find the magic in watching them change from season to season. Regardless of where you go or what you do, consider bringing a friend or partner along. Often, it’s easier to motivate yourself to get outside if you have somebody to share the experience with.