The healing power of forests

Those suffering from noise and stress can find an escape in forests. It is proven that sylvan nature reduces stress and blood pressure. Finland offers an excellent opportunity for a change in lifestyle, and its path leads to the forest.

Only five per cent of Finland’s surface area is built. More than 70% of the surface area is forest and 10% water systems. No wonder that enjoying nature is great on a global scale in Finland: more than half of Finns visit summer houses regularly.

As much as 70% of the inhabitants of northern Finland annually visit the nation’s forests to trek or pick berries or mushrooms.

In principle, every Finn has access to a silent forest and a strip of shore where one can be in peace. Foreigners too have noticed this. Tourists seek a counterbalance to their everyday life in Finnish nature destinations. They want peace, quiet and opportunities for nature and aesthetic experiences.

This is difficult in the built urban environment. For example, as much as 75% of Europeans live in an urban environment. Tourists value original nature, clean environment and local culture.

“Aesthetic experiences and the relaxing effect of a green environment lift your mood and help recover from stress,” claims Professor Liisa Tyrväinen of Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Dr. Liisa Tyrväinen has long studied the significance of forests as a producer of well-being. Forests have a great effect on people as a mental, cultural and experiential environment.

Air pollution and exposure to noise, in this order, are the biggest environmental problems for human health according to WHO, the World Health Organisation.

Insufficient recovery from stress raises the blood pressure and increases the risk of diabetes.

Ms. Tyrväinen emphasises that particularly nature areas must be seen as a resource of health care for city dwellers. According to many studies, forests promote both physical and mental well-being.

Large nature areas muffle noise and improve air quality by removing dust and other impurities and by binding ozone and monoxide gases.

It is also proven that an outing in nature and just being there lift the mood. Forests have a great therapeutic significance.

On the basis of studies, one can influence one’s state of health by being and moving in a nature environment. Especially in one’s favourite spot in nature, it is possible to regulate one’s condition towards promoting health.

“According to studies, people experience stronger recovery from stress on pleasant exercise routes often situated in the forest and in larger outdoor exercise areas than in the street and outdoor spaces of city centres mentioned as favourite places.”

Blood pressure falls and  the organs recover in the forest

Tyrväinen’s research group has results measured with heart rate monitors and blood pressure meters on how quickly a nature environment and particularly the forest help recovery from stress.

The measurements and surveys were made with a test group of almost a hundred persons.

“The health benefits of a green environment are evident.

A stressed person recovers quickly in nature. Recovery in a green zone is apparent after just 15 minutes!”

“The results of joint studies made with the Japanese are indisputable. When people were taken into the forest, a decrease in blood pressure and pulse, a reduction in muscular tension and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system were observed in the measurement results.”

The parasympathetic nervous system is most active in rest. From the effect of a parasympathetic impulse, the heart rate slows down and respiratory frequency is reduced. Being in the forest has a similar effect on the organs as yoga or meditation. The Finnish forest is a retreat.

People felt more vigorous and even more creative after being in the forest. Liisa Tyrväinen emphasises the aesthetics of nature. Stress is particularly removed by the experience of nature, an unbuilt, beautiful scenery and silence.

Liisa Tyrväinen recommends consciously combining nature experiences and moving in nature with a holiday trip.

It helps recovery from the strains of everyday life. “One nature trip is not enough to heal, but it can be an impetus for a change in lifestyle.”

A nature trip to the Finnish forest offers a holistic health package. It includes multisensory nature experiences, a clean and beautiful environment, outings in nature, accommodation and sauna close to nature, silence and healthy forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild vegetables and game.

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

FINNISH WINTER COTTAGE (Welcome To Finland #3)

By Timo Wilderness.

We made a trip to a hideout cottage to Northern Finland near Lapland. All the traditional joys like cross-country skiing, sauna and ice swimming included. The whole thing was ridiculously stereotypical Finland. And so beautiful.

MORE WTF:
WTF#1 NORTHERN LIGHTS
WTF#2 NATIONAL PARK NUUKSIO

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This extreme outdoor activity is common In Finland – would you dare to try?

There might be a chance, that you feel cold in Finland during winter, especially if you’re not used to air temperatures below zero. If so happens, find a nearby winter swimming location and dip yourself into cold water. Paradoxically coldness warms you up. Be careful though – you might end up totally hooked to the hormone boost and the afterglow of winter swimming.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Lakes in Finland are frozen quite a long time in a year: in Lapland usually seven, in Central Finland five and in Southern part of the country at least four months. The Baltic Sea by the coast gets its ice cover in November-December, depending on annual weather conditions, and sea ice might thaw as late as in late May.

Ice, cold water, sun and friends - what more do you need? Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää.

Cold water, ice, snow, sun and friends – what more do you need? Winter swimming club at Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää. Photo: Päivi Pälvimäki.

Winter swimming (or ice hole/pool swimming, when done in an ice hole) is a traditional Finnish outdoor activity. We know for sure that people took cold-water baths in the 17th century. Probably much earlier than that, but we don’t have any documents of those practises. First winter swimming clubs were founded in the 1920’s and since then winter swimming as an outdoor and health enhancing physical activity has become increasingly popular.

Fell brook at Kiilopää arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

Ice pool in Kiilopuro fell brook at Kiilopää, Lapland. A true arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

If you want to experience the most traditional custom, combine sauna going and a dip in a hole in ice. The extreme temperature change really puts your blood circulating and releases many pain-relieving and pleasure hormones. Entering into cold water straight from sauna is not the healthiest thing to do, so you ought to cool off a bit in between. Usually this happens naturally, when you walk outside in frosty air from sauna to an ice pool.

Wait, I'll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Wait, I’ll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Go slowly into water, breath slowly out and dip yourself into water as short as you like. You might feel tickling in your fingers and toes, red spots might occur on your skin and you might have difficulties to keep up your normal breathing rhythm. They are normal reactions to cold-water immersion, do not panic and run away, especially because it might be very slippery. When you come out of water, you’ll start slowly feeling better and better and better and better…and you want to go back into that freezing embrace of water. After dipping/ swimming warm up slowly and drink something warm. Cold-water immersion is a positive shock to your body. When you do it regularly you will be able to stand better stress and your immune system becomes stronger.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Winter swimming season in Finland starts when water temperature goes below 10 °C, which happens in Southern Finland in October. There are over 260 registered winter swimming locations, where you can actually swim, not just dip. In Helsinki there are 14 winter swimming locations.

Great locations for winter swimming:

  • Fell Centre Kiilopää in Lapland, Northern Finland: Coldest water ever, minus degrees. Swim in Kiilopuro fell brook and then relax in a smoke sauna afterwards. Next day you will be so energized that you’ll ski over fells in no time. The true arctic spa!
  • Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki (opens again in May 2017): Urban treasure. A seawater 25 m pool with unique city view. Also a heated fresh water 25 m pool, children’s pool, saunas and a restaurant.
  • Löyly in Helsinki: Sculptural architecture and windy winter swimming in the Baltic Sea. A beautiful smoke sauna and good food.
  • Lake Kuusijärvi in Vantaa near Helsinki: Easy access. Winter swimming training. A 25 m ice pool and saunas.
  • Winter Swimming Centre Joensuu Polar Bears in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.
  • Rauhaniemi Ice Swimming in Tampere, Central Finland.
  • Herrankukkaro in Turku area, Western Finland.

Read more:

Swimming Holidays in Finland – for bespoke swimming holidays and swimming guiding services
Wild swimming in Finland
VisitFinland/winterswimming

Ice fishing in Finland is an exotic way to enjoy nature

First impressions about ice fishing are usually negative. Even many Finns think it’s a cold and boring hobby. Actually it’s just the opposite.

Imagine yourself walking or skiing on the ice of a frozen lake or sea. There might be dozens of meters of water below you. Only half a meter of ice is between you and the freezing cold water.

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I once heard somebody asking “is this really a lake?” It was a man who had never seen a frozen lake before. It’s sometimes difficult to understand that you are actually on the top of a large water pool. When you drill a hole to the ice and drop your ice fishing lure towards the bottom, you finally realize whats happening.

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Ice fishing gets even more exciting when you fish in the wilderness. You never know in advance if the lake has any fish in it at all. Or maybe there haven’t been any fishermen in years and it’s full of huge pikes or salmons. When you drill the first hole and put your lure into the water…

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Ice fishing isn’t only about fishing or catching a fish. It’s also about enjoying the nature, peace and silence. If you go outdoors at winter time, the easiest place to wander is on ice. When there is snow everywhere, the nature is so silent and peaceful.

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If you go walking on ice at a cloudless night and full moon, you don’t need any extra light source. Everything is changing into a fairy tale.

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With the everyman’s right in Finland you can ice fish in lakes and sea areas for free (there are a few exceptions). We have a long sea coast line and almost 200 000 lakes.  You can find a lot of pikes, perches and roaches in almost every lake. When you go more north, you can find a lot of graylings, trouts, salmons and some arctic chars also.

Planning on visiting Finland? Here’s what you can expect!

Northern lights over West coast

Northern lights over West coast

When travelling around the world and talking to people about Finland, they have heard about polar bears and northern lights. Well, we do have northern lights but no polar bears. None. Except a few in zoos.

Those white bears live on the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean, but in Finland we have the Baltic Sea. Finland doesn’t have mountains either. We have only mountain roots. Keep reading; I’ll explain this later.

Baltic sea

The Baltic sea

Almost 72% of Finland is covered by forests. It’s quite easy to see; when landing at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the only things you’ll see are Helsinki city and forests. The landscape is quite flat, and a 20 or 30 metres difference in height already looks and feels like a mountain.

Cities in Finland are quite small and scattered with long distances in between. The Helsinki area has about 1 million people, but other cities fall behind significantly in population. And we don’t have skyscrapers. Sounds boring, right? Maybe not!

Finnish forests and lakes

Finnish forests and lakes

Ok, I have told you about things that are different here compared to the big world. What does Finland have to attract people here? Trendy Finnish design is one thing and food another, but I’m talking about nature. Lonely Planet just released a top ten list of the best countries to travel to in 2017 and Finland was the third.

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

As a Finn nature has always been close to my heart. Here is a few things that I think are special in Finland’s nature. I was born in a town called Kokkola which is next to the sea. Nature and forest literally started from my backyard. In the spring nature bloomed and I watched the birds sing and build their homes in nesting boxes I had built. In the summer, I enjoyed the long days –the whole night was one long sunset and sunrise. It was hard to say when one ended and the other began. Colorful autumns, then again, were perfect for long walks on the beach. The polar night is so magical in the winter that to get the best experience, I went to Lapland to see the Nordic magic.

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

The ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, but you can see its legacy right under your feet. Once, a few million years ago, we had mountain ranges like the Himalayas. Erosion has flattened the landscape, and the moving ice cover, which was many kilometres thick, flattened the ground even more. As I said before, we have mountain roots which you can see in Lapland as fells and hills. Even in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, there are smooth rocks sticking out of the ground that were polished by the ice.

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

The coastline of Western Finland was under the sea just a few hundred years ago. Near the town of Vaasa, there is the Unesco world heritage site where you can witness this phenomenon. The land is rising from the sea about 1 centimeter per year.

Tampere city, on the other hand, was built on a monument of the ice age: the whole city lies on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, and there is the highest gravel ridge in the world called Pyynikki. It was formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the ice age.

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

I once read that “Finland lacks those dramatic must see attractions but is one big attraction itself”. Agreed. We don’t have the tallest buildings, greatest mountain ranges, highest waterfalls or even strangest wild life, but Finland is one big national park of the world, because of all the untouched land. Nowadays I live in Tampere city, but I still enjoy long walks in Pyynikki where I can see red squirrels living in peace with humans. And I’m only one hour away from Helvetinjärvi national park’s beautiful gorge lake which was formed by an earthquake millions of years ago.

Peaceful summer days

Peaceful summer days

I welcome you to the land of thousand lakes!

Amazing sunsets

Amazing sunsets

Here you can find more information about Finnish nature and national parks in English.

Juuvanrova – lovely free hut for a night

On top of fjell Juuvanrova in Muonio, Lapland, there is a cute pond in the middle of old pine trees, perfect silence and a charming little cabin waiting for you (or me).

A hidden little gem.

A hidden little gem.

In Finland there is this wonderful network of wilderness huts, ‘autiotupa’, free for trekkers and skiers to stay and rest for a night. The huts are fairly small and generally accommodate about 4 persons – but with general friendliness and empathy among fellow-trekkers you can be fairly confident you won’t have to spend the night outside. But you might have to endure a stranger snoring right next to you! Also, the custom is you only stay for one night or two at the most and don’t make it your personal cottage for a week.

Juuvanrova fjell is situated next to Olostunturi and Särkitunturi fjells, and is easily reached from the north side of the fjell, with just 5 km hike from the road. In the winter you can ski to Juuvanrova from any direction.

Short hike past wetlands and up the fjell

We parked on Luusunseläntie, a small road off Rovaniementie (road 79), about 7 km from Muonio towards Kittilä. There are signs to Juuvanrova from the tiny car park a couple of kilometers from the main road 79.

The hike to the cabin is 5 km and the path is well marked by orange triangles. First two kilometers take you through some wetland, waterproof hiking shoes are recommended. There are wooden duckboards across the wettest areas but careful – they are not in their best shape anymore.

Mind the duckboards after rain! The bogs are pretty though.

Mind the duckboards after rain! The bogs are pretty though.

After 2 km you reach an autiotupa Tammikämppä, also an open hut. It is situated by a lovely river with pure drinking water right next to you. If you feel tired or are in awe already – stay here and chill by a fire! Or walk across the bridge and continue for 3 km upwards to Juuvanrova.

The climb is not very steep and you can take breaks to admire the neighbouring fjells and lakes – it really is quite pretty! 

Admiring the Pallas fjells in the distance.

Admiring the Pallas fjells in the distance.

Juuvanrova hut

There are sleeping places for 4 persons, but more can be fitted if you squeeze. We were just two persons and nobody else was there so felt pretty lucky. The rule of these open huts is that the last one to enter has the right to stay. The person who has come earlier has already rested and can move on.

There is an area for fire outside the wilderness hut.

There is an area for fire outside the wilderness hut.

A lovely fireplace in the corner lights up the room and fire wood can be fetched from the wood shed. There is also an axe in the shed to make smaller firewood. But keep in mind the wood is there for everyone to enjoy, don’t burn them all. You can make coffee and cook with the pans found in the hut, the former user will have washed them properly for you to enjoy.

Juuvainside

We walked up here on a Friday evening in Autumn. We enjoyed the warmth and crackling of fire indoors, but also the crisp air and some Northern Lights outdoors. The following day we walked around the fjell, saw a sleepy reindeer, some eager and nosy Siberian Jays and heard Crows fighting about something. Then we walked back to the cabin for another night, as nobody else had come there.

Siberian Jays are very curious birds.

Siberian Jays are very curious birds.

Drinking water

We boiled the water from the pond before drinking, just in case, but it is most likely very pure on its own. In general, it is recommended you only drink water that is running freely and not standing still. So creeks, streams and rivers of Lapland are pretty safe bets. Otherwise boil the water first to kill possible germs.

The open wilderness huts are marked on most maps along the hiking and skiing routes. They are maintained by Metsähallitus, a Finnish Administration of Forests.

Woodshed full of wood is a happy sight for all wanderers.

Woodshed full of wood is a happy sight for all wanderers.

The rule is you leave the hut the same way you find it – clean and nice. Empty and wash up all the pans and make some fire wood for the others. Pour the dirty water on the ground at proper distance from the pond. Consideration for others – that is the only way such a superb system keeps working!

This is a dry toilet. Don't forget to bring your own toilet paper.

This is a dry toilet. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper.

From Juuvanrova you can continue the trail down to Kuusikonmaa hut for about 5 km, and onwards all the way to Ylläs fjell if you like.

Juuvanrova wilderness hut on the map