Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Ridiculously Healthy Swedish Lifestyle

hat makes Sweden one of the healthiest countries on earth?
Currently rated 7th on the Human Development Index which is an index used to rank countries by level of "human development". Sweden has consistently ranked within the to 10 for many years and with an average life expectancy of over 80 years, it seems that the Swedes are doing something right. (it should be noted that Canada is doing pretty well on the list coming in at almost the same rating).

The photo of a biker above that looks like she is about to get run down by the bus behind her is a little deceptive. Although in Canada Cyclists are considered vehicles, they are shown very little or no respect by motorists. It is dangerous to ride your bike on the roadways and city planning does not keep in mind cycle paths besides those that citizens might use recreationally which dont really lead anywhere useful.

I don't know how to explain it but for me you can almost feel the less rushed more laid back attitude while your walking on the streets here. Crosswalks are everywhere and cars will start to slow dozens of meters before reaching one if there is even a hint of someone that looks as if they may want to cross. In Canada you frequently need a whole affair with posts that have blinking lights warning motorists that someone is about to cross the road. With Mr. or Mrs Joe Smith rushing from one errand to another suffering through the inconvenience of having to drive there. I've been on buses where there has been a Cyclist ahead of us and the bus driver will adjust his speed to match that of the cyclist, not looking to pass or honking his horn. This was even more surprising when the cyclist was a pensioner who couldn't have been traveling more then 5km/h. Swedes don't stress about it and just continue on their way at the new un-posted speed restriction.

In terms of getting around, it all starts with city planning for which Europe has always been the example to follow. All roadways are designed with pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in mind. You can easily and safely get to where your going using any means of transportation. Distances are manageable and a car is almost an inconvenience to have if your living in the city. Contrary to city planning in North America where you cant even get to your local 7-11 without driving there.

Historically the Swedish have always had a well balanced food culture that limits unhealthy foods and oversized portions. Going to McDonalds or Burger King here is no cheaper then going to a normal restaurant as they all charge about 60 SEK ($10 CAD) for a combo. In fact I find it crazy that people choose to go to fast food restaurants here at all considering the lack of price differentiation between them an a healthy alternative. Contrast this to Canada where you can get a Big Mac meal for $5 or go to a proper restaurant and drop no less then $15. Imagine my surprise when I learned that KFC does not even exist here in Sweden. I guess the swedes dont care for the colonel's fried chicken with special blend of seasonings.

My opinion is that the work life balance here is paramount to the longevity and health of the Swedish population. Its understood that to have a healthy productive employee you must respect the fact that they also need time to regenerate. The vicious cycle that so easily develops in the work centric North American culture which promotes those that spend their entire lives at work and neglects their families does not happen here.

After all, you only live once.

The Swedish Word of the day is: hälsosam which means healthy.

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