It's well-known that spending quality time in nature can promote a sense of well-being and alleviate depression, anxiety and improve health. What's interesting is that different cultures will have different ways of relating with nature. In Sweden, there's an attitude of living "close to nature" as much as possible; this can be seen in the country's allemansrätten laws (ie. "everyman's right to roam the countryside"), which allows everyone to enjoy nature and wildlife in common.
Now an informal study is showing that the way Swedes relate and spend time in nature can significantly lower stress and improve long-term health. The project had five people with stressful jobs who were each invited to stay in their own small cabin in Henriksholm for three days. Designed by architecture student Jeanna Berger, these simple glass-clad structures permit maximum shelter while still being 'exposed' to the landscape and sky.
The project, initiated by Visit Sweden, in collaboration with Turistrådet Västsverige (West Sweden Tourist Board), is dubbed The 72 Hour Cabin, followed the progress of five participants from the around the world who have come to destress in nature the Swedish way: a Paris taxi driver, one British journalist and a broadcaster, a Munich policewoman, and a New York City event coordinator. The project coordinators write:
Year after year, Sweden takes first place in international rankings of countries with the best quality of life. Swedish nature, which is pure, vast and easy to access, is a part of the secret. The Swedes’ unique relationship with nature is an important part of their well-being, which is why Sweden created ‘The 72 Hour Cabin’. The initiative is designed to acquaint visitors with the special bond Swedes have with their natural environment, and to invite the world to experience it too.
The study, which was overseen by stress researchers from Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, didn't have a control group, so it used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods before and after the participants' stay to gauge how things went. Data on blood pressure was collected, as well as less tangible pieces of information like journal entries, and feelings on well-being and creativity. The findings were striking, says Walter Osika, one of the researchers:
I am positively surprised by the results and it shows that a Swedish ‘close to nature’ lifestyle can improve people’s well-being, at least in a short run. We saw a 70 percent decrease of stress, which is considerable.
The public can now rent the cabins for a limited time. But the informal study gives the rest of the world a glimpse into the Swedes' fascinating relationship with nature: the closer, the better, and how it might impact a whole nation, its laws and its psyche. It might be something other countries would do well to emulate. More over at The 72 Hour Cabin and Västsverige.