5 Reasons Why I Leave Norway During the Winter
By Mikkel Gisle Johnsen
I love Norway. Not only is it my home country, but it’s also one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s wild and raw with its mountains, valleys and renowned fjords. I do however also cherish my health, and during the winter half of the year Norway is simply not the best place to be for a human. Since humans are tropical animals biologically, we thrive in tropical or near tropical climates. During the temperate summers outside the tropics – all is good – but when winter comes around, it’s a different story. Here’s five reasons why I choose to leave Norway for parts of the year, in favor of destinations closer to the equator.
Reason #1: We need the sun! Humans are adapted to living in tropical climates, and although the skin of the people who moved away from the equator has become lighter and thus more sensitive to the little sunlight there is, it’s still not enough. Depending on the latitude of where you live, there are parts of the year when the angle of the sun is too low to stimulate any production of Vitamin D, and there’s no better source of this vitamin than the sun itself. Sunbeds with UVB lights, as well as supplementation, are worth considering if traveling is not an option, but neither one of them will be ideal.
There’s more! Exposure to sunlight (indirectly) through the eyes is an important factor in stimulating the production of several hormones important for human health. The weakness of the sunlight during the winter, as well as the fact that cloudy weather tends to predominate during this half of the year, makes Norway and many other places less ideal for someone who enjoys good health, and who doesn’t?
Reason #2: We are diurnal animals – not nocturnal! We humans like daylight, and we are not adapted to being active at night. Darkness naturally triggers the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, which makes us sleepy and relaxed. In the tropics, the day and night cycle is more or less 12 hours day/12 hours night, year round. The further you get away from the equator, the more this will go out of ideal balance. Northern summers have extremely long days, whereas winters have long nights. When the sun sets way earlier than it should (for our biological clock) it creates problems for us.
In my personal experience, I notice the negative effects as soon as the length of the day becomes 10 hours or less. During Christmas – when the days are at their shortest – my energy levels, mood and sleep quality isn’t where I’d like it to be. Some people may say it’s mind over matter, but “positive thinking” won’t help you physically – only mentally. Physically speaking, these conditions are tearing away at your health whether you like it or not, and in order to maintain peak health and performance in life, you will have to change your environment, not mindset.
Reason #3: Lack of fresh fruit! Let’s face it, Norway isn’t the best place in the world for fruit lovers at any time of the year, but at least during the summer we get fresh produce from areas closer to home – like southern Europe, Turkey and even Norway (things like berries and apples). There’s also import of fruits from further away, but still within the same hemisphere. For the winter half of the year however, the fruit you get in Norway is imported from the other hemisphere, which is experiencing its summer. The long transport means the fruit will be picked much earlier than when that same fruit is in season “at home”. The result is lower quality fruit that will never ripen properly. Bananas are obviously available year round, but in order to be perfectly happy and healthy – we need a certain amount of variety in our lives, don’t we?
Depending on where you live, you may even be able to source half decent quality fruit year round, even in winter, but this doesn’t change the fact that eating truly ripe, tropical fruits at the source is not only the ideal nutritionally, but it’s also the best thing ever – for your mouth! If you choose not to live in the tropics year round, you may still want to consider visiting, to stock up on all that good stuff and get your health back on track! The best time to do this is obviously during the winter, where things are the least conducive to healthy living at home.
Reason #4: Trapped indoors! The colder and harsher the environment, the more time we spend indoors where we can maintain a stable “tropical climate” year round no matter our geographical position. In Norway, and many other non-tropical locations, this spending an inordinate amount of time closed off from the natural elements of fresh air, sunshine, plants and animals – including people! This is no way to live!
I enjoy being active, and as long as I’m in a place where going outside is simply a matter of stepping out, I need no motivation at all to go play. When the temperatures drop and the weather changes however, I notice that I start dreading the idea of going outside. I still do it of course, because I know how important it is and how amazing it makes me feel once I’m out and especially once I’m home again, but the fact that I need to motivate myself in order to get over that initial inertia is something I find very telling. If you are not naturally drawn to go outside, it’s because the climate is not ideal.
Another challenge is that even if you do feel motivated to go outside, you still need to put on a lot of clothing. This is yet another obstacle in your way. Everything becomes a project, requiring planning and time. During the summer we simply find ourselves flowing between outdoor spaces and indoor spaces without a second thought. Like children, we simply do what we want, whenever we want!
Socially, we become cut off from each other when all of us are inside our own little homes all day. The fact that countries with a warmer climate also tend to have a more socially “warm” culture is no coincidence.
If you love being healthy, active, spontaneous and spend plenty of time outdoors – in nature, around other people and the natural elements of sunshine and fresh air – I highly recommend that you take a trip somewhere warmer when winter comes around!
Reason #5: Clothing does not benefit your health We’re born naked, and our bodies are naturally adapted to living in a tropical climate where the temperature never drops below 21 degrees Celsius. As soon as we move away from that ideal environment, we have to start putting on clothes as a strategy to maintain our body temperature. This, we all know.
What all of us don’t know is that clothing itself causes a certain amount of harm to our health. Of course, by keeping us alive it does more good overall, but if we could avoid it – by being in a more conducive climate – we would be better off.
I do understand that there are certain cultural norms we humans like to keep up when it comes to clothing, but this is irrelevant when speaking of physiology. Ideally speaking, the less clothes the better.
To make a long story short, clothing harms us in mainly three ways. First of all, clothing covers up our skin so that we don’t receive the beneficial sunlight directly. Direct sunlight (at the right intensity) not only stimulates vitamin D production, but it also sanitizes our skin. UV radiation is a well-known tool used by hospitals to sterilize equipment. A clean body requires not just water – but sunlight as well.
Secondly, the clothes trap our skin from “breathing” properly. Remember, the skin is our “natural suit” – the only piece of clothing we really need, and it’s alive! The skin regulates our temperature, connects us with our environment through the sensory system and is meant to be in contact with fresh air at all times! By trapping our bodies in clothes all the time, we create a breeding ground for unhealthy bacteria and poor skin health in general. By living in a climate where we can walk around with minimal clothing at all times, our skin health – as well as our overall health – will reap tremendous benefits.
Last, but not least, clothing is heavy! Walking around with several kg’s of clothing on our back all day makes us feel sluggish and slow. I don’t need to explain this point any further because I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about! I love the feeling of wearing nothing but a pair of shorts when I go for a run. Wearing winter clothes also tend to restrict movement, which can lead to postural imbalances poor movement.
There are other problems as well of course, such as the materials from which the clothes are made and how they sometimes affect our body chemistry by leeching synthetic chemicals through the skin and into our bodies.
As I said, the less clothing the better – and if winter is causing you to be bogged down by layers upon layers of heavy clothes, consider changing your location, and thus the environment around you – rather than having to cope with the heavy burden of too much clothing!
Summing up! So there you have it – some of the reasons why I choose to relocate for part of the year. It’s not a matter of being weak, as some people claim. It’s not that I’m not able to cope with harsh conditions, it’s that I choose to prioritize optimal health. As Bear Grylls says; “There are no extra points for being uncomfortable”. In other words, poor conditions affect your physiology the same regardless of whether you mentally cope with the situation or not. It’s a question of how much you value your health. I value it highly, and for part of the year in Norway, it’s simply too unhealthy to stay! I’m not complaining though, because who wants to stay put in one location the whole year round anyway?
Traveling is an exciting addition to life, and I sincerely believe that humans are naturally somewhat of a nomadic species. It’s in our genes to move around a little bit with the seasons. I wrote about the art and science of traveling – especially focused on fruit fanatics like myself – in my book The Way of The Fruitful Traveler. It’s a detailed guide to the philosophy of travel, how to make it happen in your life, how to travel long term and all the logistical stuff like how to travel for cheap, how to pack your bags and travel ultralight – as well as how to deal with the various challenges that invariably arise during your journey. Check it out here to learn more.
Health is wealth, and if you truly cherish yours, I highly recommend that you make an effort to spend at least part of the year in a tropical, or subtropical location, unless you already live there permanently. Life is rich and abundant, and there’s plenty of reasons why we may choose to compromise on our health (like I do when I choose to stay in Norway for at least 50% of the year), but they are well worth it. When they are not worth it however (like during the winter for me), simply change your environment to suit your needs. Travel!
Get that sun. That fruit. That light, happy summer feeling you get when running around barefoot with almost no clothes while just enjoying life! Whether it be for a couple of weeks – or a full 6 month relocation – you’re worth it!
The information in this article reflects the views and opinions of the author and is intended for educational and informational purposes only. This is not medical advice. We are not responsible for any action you may take based on the information given in this article. For medical advice please see your medical professional.