Does Wind + Cold = Happy Hobartians?
by Lily Whiting
There is a definite sense of gloom in the air when the snow starts to fall on kunanyi. The daily temps barely make it into double digits and we find ourselves opting for the couch rather than the great outdoors.
We are all aware of the links between Vitamin D intake and happiness, but with our cold snap just around the corner, perhaps a little Dutch outlook on the winter blues might be as good for us as a blue-sky sunny day.
Many people turned to the outdoors in the last few years for exercise rather than the gym or opting for park picnics rather than indoor dinners, regardless of how bleak the day. Partially to get out of the same four walls we call home and work during pandemic lockdowns, but also because our parents always said fresh air was good for us – now more than ever it appears.
If any country is to be an expert on correlations between wind, weather and health, the incredibly flat, wind-powered Netherlands ought to be in the running to take the title. The Dutch concept, uitwaaien (OUT-vwy-ehn) is taking the US by storm (pun intended) and translates roughly as “to walk in the wind”, the embracing of wild and woolly weather for its recalibrating and refreshing qualities. Other terms, like friluftsliv (FREE-loofts-liv), translate to “open-air living”, utilising nature and time outdoors, regardless of how dire the weather may be. Outdoor physical activity in the wind is now being seen as a reset button, an opportunity to clear the head of stress and literally let the elements wash thoughts away.
While it is not expected to spend every waking minute in the icy drafts sweeping straight off the Wellington Ranges, if you find yourself indoors, even snuggling on the couch rocking two pairs of socks in front of the fire has its place and benefits for managing the winter blues. The now-familiar Nordic term of hygge (HUE-guh) describes using the time indoors during average weather to welcome feelings of comfort and well-being, a beautiful way to describe drinking more hot chocolate than humanly possible and binge watching a Netflix series in one evening.
We now have scientific data to suggest the benefits of time outdoors is more than an old wives tale, with firm links between time spent in nature and lower blood pressure, pulse rate and cortisol concentration, and positive effects on ADHD and depression. Nicholas Haslam, Professor of Psychology at Melbourne University says we might not be aware of the changes, but little changes in our body like slower breathing, facial muscles relaxing and blinking less often are results of being in a state of calmness rather than stress. “Our digestive processes are sped up, immune functioning improves, brain wave patterns shift, and our sleep tends to improve,” says Professor Haslam.
Whilst looking at an image of a forest won’t have the exact same benefits as being in one, something is better than nothing, says Professor Haslam. This goes for images of nature or colours we attribute to being outdoors. “Research has shown urban office workers who glance at green roofs even briefly show improvements in mood and concentration while working”, he said Ideally, complete immersion in the physical environment will also involve the sounds and smells we cannot achieve with a 2D image, the trimmings to the sensory feast.
Perhaps a very tiny silver lining to take out of the pandemic was how we didn’t need the indoors to do everything. Before we know it, the wind will start leaving lashes on our faces and the rain will just seem to go on and on and on, however some lifestyle adoptions from The Netherlands may be a welcome way to see out the winter months with a slightly frozen smile on our faces still. Of course, don’t forget the standard Tassie winter outfit when you do: beanie, puffer and Blunnies!