Health & Wellness
The Simple Dutch Cure for Stress
Posted: April 23, 2021
'Uitwaaien' is a popular activity around Amsterdam—one believed to have important psychological benefits…
Editor's Note: My wife and I like to get outside to walk as much as possible. Over the last three years or so it seems that windy days have become the norm—so much so that several times we had to give up on attempts to include a picnic lunch as things went flying. When I saw this article by Alice Fleecrackers about the Dutch practice of "uitwaaien" with the concept of "seeking out windy exercise" it resonated with our experience. Following is an excerpt, with a link to the full article at the bottom of the page.
In 2019 I was in San Francisco, a city known for its tech companies, steep hills, and fierce winds. Each day I’d run around the neighborhood and up through the park, ending with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Back in my AirBnB, I’d feel energized and refreshed, fingers tingling from the breeze. It was cold, exhausting, but completely exhilarating.
As it turns out, there’s a unique term, from the Dutch, for this sort of pastime. In the Netherlands, people have been seeking out windy exercise for more than a hundred years. Today, the practice is so common that it’s known as “uitwaaien.” It “literally translates to ‘outblowing,’” explains Caitlin Meyer, a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Dutch Linguistics. “It’s basically the activity of spending time in the wind, usually by going for a walk or a bike ride.” Meyer has lived in the Netherlands for more than 20 years and has come to specialize in the language, despite being a non-native speaker. She says uitwaaien is a popular activity where she lives—one believed to have important psychological benefits. “Uitwaaien is something you do to clear your mind and feel refreshed—out with the bad air, in with the good,” she tells me. “It’s seen as a pleasant, easy, and relaxing experience—a way to destress or escape from daily life.”
A growing body of evidence suggests that Dutch speakers may be onto something. “Pretty well every group of people benefits from being outdoors in the presence of nature,” says Jules Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex. “It takes us out of the stresses and anxieties of the rest of life.” Over the last 15 years, he’s explored how a range of outdoor activities affect human psychology, including walking, cycling, and even farming. He’s found that people from all walks of life can increase their well-being after spending as little as five minutes amid natural settings, with positive impacts on sense of self-worth, mood, and sense of identity.
Other researchers have found similar results, linking activities like nature walks with reduced levels of depression, perceived stress, and negative emotions. Some research goes even further, reporting that walking in nature can help reduce headaches, improve immune function, and even, as in the case of the famous forest-bathing studies, increase anticancer protein production.
While research into the benefits of waterscapes isn’t as well-established, evidence suggests these “blue spaces” may be equally—or perhaps even more—beneficial to mental well-being. For example, people who live closer to the coast, like many Netherlanders do, report better physical and psychological health than those farther inland. Water may have a restorative effect, helping people overcome negative emotions and diminish their mental distress. Apparently, when it comes to relaxation and recovery, a little “outblowing” at the beach might be just what the doctor ordered.
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Pretty agrees. “Go out at lunchtime and take a break,” he says. “Park a bit further away [from the office] and walk for five minutes.” Whatever your lifestyle, he says, look at your schedule, and ask yourself the simple question: “How you can fit in small amounts of exposure to nature?”
So open that calendar app and note some time for the s. Whether it’s a windy, riverside bike ride or a jog up a steep San Francisco hill, chances are, your mind—not to mention your body—will thank you for it.
Alice Fleerackers is a freelance writer and a doctoral student at Simon Fraser University, where she studies how controversial science is communicated in the digital sphere. Find her on Twitter @FleerackersA.
Also see "," a tale told by Welsh farmer Will Davies who finds that being outdoors contributes greatly to his contentment.
Related to the timing of these articles with the celebration of Earth Day on April 22, see this week's poem by Greg Asimakoupoulos,
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