At the start of the year, the Swedish health app Lifesum looked at data collected from 300,000 users across nine countries: US, UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Russia, to figure out which country, generation and gender was healthiest and why. Looking at the Health Score, ranking a user’s overall health by looking at their exercise habits, food, and liquid intake.
While the findings showed that all countries consumed less calories at the start of the year and attempted to exercise more, the Norwegians were healthiest – paying close attention to their diets, exercising most and drinking least alcohol in the month of January. Swedes were close to follow in second place, with the Brits coming in third. So why are the Nordic countries so healthy?
Plenty of exercise
The results of the research show that Norwegians exercised the most compared to other countries, averaging 8 times a month. This might not sound like a lot, but recent research by Loughborough University found that just exercising at weekends showed significant improvements to overall health. Similarly, even though the number of times might seem low, the duration of exercise in the Nordics is quite significant, especially when hiking is involved, as that usually requires hours.
Plenty of fruit and vegetables
Interestingly, Lifesum’s research found that it was the Brits who consumed the most fruits and vegetables, averaging as many as 105 pieces per month, which still doesn’t amount to the recommended 5 (and now 10 according to Imperial College London!) a day. Where the Nordics might be ahead is in the lower consumption of carbohydrates such as bread, replacing them with protein and vegetables. It is actually relatively easy to make sure that you eat enough, once you make sure half of your plate is filled with fruit and veg.
Out of the nine surveyed countries, Norwegians drank the least alcohol. Alcohol can be very calorific as they often contain a lot of sugar, which is counterproductive to being healthy. Additionally, drinking alcohol reduces liver function by creating fat around the organ, as well as increasing blood glucose levels.
Little junk food
Out of all the countries, US and UK took the top spots for consuming the most junk food, including pizza and deep-dried foods. Swedes consumed the least junk food, which is one of the aspects which contributed to them being so healthy. In fact, Nordic countries in general prefer to eat food that they prepare from scratch themselves, preferably from fresh and local produce.
Other secrets of Scandi health…
Another reason for why the Nordic countries are as healthy as they are, are the two beliefs that are becoming big in the UK – lagom and friluftsliv. Lagom is an idea of ‘just the right amount’ – meaning that you don’t restrict anything but also don’t have anything in excess, which can be applied to all areas of life. Another belief that contributes to the healthiness of the Nordics is friluftsliv – or a belief that nature is the true home. This is what leads us to spending as much time as possible outside, breathing the fresh air and getting fit in the process.
The Nordic diet as a whole also contributes to how healthy Norway and Sweden are. The diet is well-balanced, including good sources of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, healthy bacteria, and complex carbs. Numerous studies have found the Nordic diet to have a positive impact on our overall health, from improving heart health, lowering blood pressure and normalising cholesterol levels. If you are keen to try the Nordic diet for yourself, you can always follow Scandi cooks on Instagram for recipe inspiration, or you can use apps to help you. For example Lifesum recently added new Nordic food plans, supplying you with recipes and ingredient suggestions to fit your health goals, whether those are to lose or gain weight, or simply be healthier.
Breakfast is key
Everyone knows the importance of breakfast, which in the Nordics is healthy and balanced, often consisting of cereal, yoghurt, dried fruits, wholemeal breads, cold meats and cheese. You can expect to see some, or all, of the below on the average breakfast table of a Swedish household: coffee, a hard-boiled egg, a sandwich with ham/cheese/sausage/liver pâté, a bowl of cereal with filmjolk (dairy product similar to yoghurt). Taught the importance of breakfast from a young age, our healthy balanced meals kick start the morning and get the metabolism going.
Organic and locally produced food
Interest in organic food in the Nordics has soared in the recent years. In Sweden, organic sales have already increased by 30% in 2016, showing just how successful organic food is. Additionally, more and more Swedes are opting to grow their own produce in an urban environment, or shopping for foods from local farmers, which makes their diet very healthy
Lifesum is a Stockholm-based digital health company with over 17 million users. Using tech and psychology, it creates a tailored plan to help people live happier, more balanced lives, showing how changing small, everyday habits can transform your life. The app is available on iOS and Android.