Holland's Healthiest Habits: 10 Tips For a Healthier Life

By: Olga Mecking

The Netherlands are a beautiful country. I was, however, surprised to find that the Dutch have many healthy habits that we have adopted in our own lives and I believe everyone can benefit from it!

1) Go uitwaaien. It means "walk in the wind", or, less literally, "go out!". The Dutch are crazy about being outside. Sunlight is scarce here so whenever there is a blue sky or it isn't raining, the Dutch will go out. We enjoy the closeness of the sea and with good weather, we often go to the beach or walk in the dunes and even a homebody such as myself learned to enjoy being outside, especially when we're living so close to the sea! During the year, the Dutch cycle everywhere, and in the winter when the canals freeze, they go ice-skating. Both sports offer oportunities for getting some fresh air! Living in a country with little sunlight made me realize how important it is to be outside and even though I had to adapt my defitinition of good weather from "sunshine" to "no rain", I still get plenty of days when we can go uitwaaien.

2) Eat fish - it doesn't have to be the raw herring  or the fried fish the Dutch love eating so much. But fish is in fact very healthy, especially fat fish such as herring! It is delicious, too! The Dutch also eat a lot of sea food such as mussels, calamari or shrimp. While I am not a huge fan of sea food, even I started to add it to my cooking, for example in soups, when I make paella or stir-fries.

3) Be direct - The Dutch are said to be direct, to the point of seeming rude. I cannot really comfirm this stereotype. They always smile at me and help me when I need to get on the tram with the children. But they will tell you what they think, for example if they don't agree with you. However, being direct and speaking your mind can be very healthy as long as you remain respectful towards the other person. As a shy woman myself, I have found it very empowering to just say "no" without having to give a lenghty explanation! Especially in another languaga, this can be a great help!

4) Try to find the right work/family balance - I think the Dutch consider their private and family lives extremely important. For example, many parents work part-time or work from home - mostly mothers, but fathers, too! On Mondays, many little shops are closed. This can be hard when you're a customer but it is great when you work in such a shop and have a family. Dutch daycare is of good quality and in my case, a real lifesaver. Parents get a lot of parental leave. All in all, the Netherlands are a very family-friendly country.

5) Be very vocal about your healthcare choices - The Dutch are obsessed with all things natural. Birth has to be natural. Cures have to be natural. This has a good side, of course and results in less overmedication. On the other hand, however, you may be refused medicines that you may need and told to go home and take some paracetamol. Sometimes, it is a good idea to wait until the fever goes away, othertimes it may be better to insist on antibiotics or some other stronger medication. In both cases, be very vocal about your wishes. Especially if you're a pregnant woman, think about your ideas for pregnancy and birth and don't hesitate to discuss them with your midwife.

6) Eat comfort food - Ok, this one may not be necesarily healthy for your body but in moderate quantities can be healthy for your soul! Dutch food is nothing to write home about: the most things are fried,cooked or mashed. However, the Dutch excel at making sweets such as stroopwaffels (two layers of wafer with a caramel filling inside), poffertjes (cute little pancakes serevd with butter and confectioner's sugar), appelflappen (pastries with an apple filling), not to mention olliebollen which are somewhat similar to daughnuts. Also, in the winter, there is nothing like a big bowl of erwtensoup- pea soup, also called "snert".

7) Shop at the local markets or specialized stores - while there are many supermarkets in the Netherlands, in almost every city there are local markets selling fresh fruit, vegetables, orange juice, bread, fish, and other wonderful products. Another great way to buy good quality food are local shops. You will find local, but also exotic produtcs that you won't find at the supermarkets, such as good quality bread, fresh yeast, and imported goods if you're keen on cooking! I also stopped byuing my meat at the supermarket and only buy it from the butcher's. That way it is fresh, and the quality is so much better, too! It also resulted in us eating less meat!

8) Buy flowers - The Netherlands are famous for its tulips. You can but it in all imagineable and unimagineable colours, even black! Other flowers are also popular. We have a florists close to our place and I have noticed how much better the mood is when there are fresh flowers at home. They smell wonderful and give your home a nice, comfy feeling!

9) Surround yourself with orange - Orange is the national colour of the Netherlands. Even the royal family is called "Oranje"! At first I didn't like it, but I realized that orange is actually a great, vibrant colour! It is full of positive energy and I think it has many positive connotations, such as for example with the Orange Rhino challenge that is a project started by a mom who resolved not to yell at her children. Also, oranges and other citrus fruit are great for the winter months since they have lots of vitamin C and are very healthy!

10) Find a new hobby -  While this is not necessarily a Dutch habit, it is definitely one I discovered when I came to the Netherlands: I started a blog, learned a new language, worked on various projects.I believe that following your dreams is important for everyone. A new hobby will give you a new skill, something to occupy the mind with. It will challenge you and give you lots of joy!

Every country has their own ideas about what is healthy and what isn't. Living in the Netherlands made me think a lot about health-related topics and I think these tips can be useful to everyone! What have you learned about health in your new home country? Did you adopt any of the traditions from there? Did it help to make your life healthier? Tell me in the comments!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingOlga Mecking is a Polish expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: A blog by a Polish mother living in the Netherlands with her German husband and two daughters about parenting, multilingualism, being European, and much much more.
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Contest Comments » There are 43 comments

Mrs. Chasing The Donkey wrote 10 years ago:

What great tips, I knew some. But had zero clue about the one around being natural and medicines. Do tell your neighbours I had a C-section and pop drugs for all kinds of aches and pains when I come and visit ;)

Anne Radcliffe wrote 10 years ago:

I can't do the fish thing... but I love the whole rest of the list. I think I was meant to live in the Netherlands. Now if you'll pardon me, my carless self is going to go walk in the wind! ;)

Ute Limacher-Riebold wrote 10 years ago:

These are all important aspects of how to feel at home in the Netherlands! Uitwaaien, een kopje koffie drinken and going with the flow, i.e. doing what locals do, are the best you can do.

Olena wrote 10 years ago:

What a great tips! #8 - buy flowers is my favorite. Would love to visit this country some day. Thank you, Olga!

Maria Babin wrote 10 years ago:

Beautifully written Olga. Very straightforward and simple but full of sound advice! I think I'd like living in a place that places such a high emphasis on natural health! And the pea soup "snert" made me laugh for some reason! Bisous xo

Kerry wrote 10 years ago:

Love this List! Especially getting outside, being direct, eating comfort food and buying flowers. Everyone really takes advantage of good weather to the point of even taking days off work. The Dutch are slim, but don't kill themselves dieting. Flowers are the best to have in the house. Finally, being direct...didn't think I really liked this, but after a couple years I noticed that Canadians are very polite and keep critical opinions to themselves, then it all boils up inside and they end up making nasty comments behind your back. Refreshing how the Dutch just get it off their chests immediately and go on with their lives!

Barbara Wilson wrote 10 years ago:

To me, all of these tips can be summed up in to one; live simply. Thanks so much for this article Olga :) I have had a fondness for the Netherlands for some time and this article just confirmed it!

Julie Nowelll wrote 10 years ago:

Yes. the dutch are VERY direct. We have met more than our fair share on our island and you can tell the Dutch from first contact. VERY DIRECT! And here here to the flowers! but I think we should all buy flowers. all the time! What a way to fill a home with joy!

Cordelia wrote 10 years ago:

Olga - what a lovely post! I particularly like the walking in the wind. Of course I wish we had wind over here. Another fav is being direct. 10 years in the UK sucked all the directness out of me. Perhaps I need a sting in The Negherlands next!

Lisa wrote 10 years ago:

I miss many of these aspects of Dutch life upon our return to America. By not walking/biking everywhere, driving, and the greater emphasis on processed/fast foods in the American culture, I admit to gaining too much weight in first year back.

Lani wrote 10 years ago:

Nice to meet you! I enjoyed reading your post because I want to go to the Netherlands one day, and because it's always great to receive these little insights into another culture. So now I feel like I know a little more, and I wish Asia would adopt some of these healthy practices. Like walking and being outside!!!!

Farrah wrote 10 years ago:

These really are great tips- and I LOVE the way they do flowers here. I've adopted their philosophy of opening the windows to rid the house of 'stale air' more, and I've really noticed a difference. Hope it's something I take back home with me.

Rita Rosenback wrote 10 years ago:

Love that you managed to get going for a walk and eating cake under the same "healthy life" heading!

Catina wrote 10 years ago:

Great tips Olga! Especially love the comfort food one. It's so true! Next time I am feeling a bit homesick I will buy a bag of stroop waffles!

Brittany wrote 10 years ago:

Great article! I went to Amsterdam in Nov. 2012 and it is probably my favorite place to visit. I think I am like the Dutch because I love seafood, I'm very direct!

Pamela Smith wrote 10 years ago:

Wonderful tips for a healthy life, Olga! And not one word about the wonders of kale. North Americans are OBSESSED with kale but I'm officially over it. The colour orange makes me smile whenever I see it :-)

Sharon wrote 10 years ago:

I'm a big fan of color to make you happy. I like bright colors when its cold outside.

Leanna @ Alldonemonkey wrote 10 years ago:

I love that you have adapted to your new environment and found such great ways to thrive!

Ania wrote 10 years ago:

What a lovely post, Olga. It's made me realise and appreciate how many good things there are about living in Holland and how much healthier our lifestyle is here compared to England and Poland. I used to complain so much about the weather here and how little sunshine we get. Now I don't take sunny and dry weather for granted! I think I also must have adopted some Dutch ways as I go on my bike everywhere, even when it's pouring with rain! After all, it's just a matter of layers, isn't it?:)

Kristina wrote 10 years ago:

I recognize some of these healthy habits from Sweden, where people also like to be outside, even in the winter: there is even a saying that goes something like "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing" (meaning there is no excuse to stay indoors when it is raining or freezing cold). The Swedes will also rush outside whenever the sun is shining, and you will see them having lunch or dinner outdoors wrapped up in blankets. Swedish people tend to avoid conflicts, though - and I agree with you that directness is healthy. I also really like the Dutch way of working part-time and taking care of their children part-time (I do think childcare is extremely expensive, though).. In Sweden, parental leave is very long, which is great - but after that, parents often go back to working full time. Thanks for your article - it really gives a good idea of the Dutch lifestyle! And I agree it's a very nice country to live in.

K10K wrote 10 years ago:

I'm going to forward this one to my husband. Especially the part about the healthiness of eating comfort food (living in Belgium, this can only mean chocolate), having flowers around the house and going to get a (romantic) 'walk in the wind'! I wonder if he will get the hint...

Ewa Bartnik wrote 10 years ago:

I think the work-family balance is extremely important, and not an easy thing to establish and maintain, if the Dutch manage this so well that is really a great thing. Comparing with Poland the flexibility of the daycare arrangements in Holland is excellent and a great help in trying to have kids, work and a life.

Be direct. Oh boy, are you right about that one! One of my co-workers is a Dutchman. When he doesn't like it you must certainly will know! But you will also know when he adores you, so that is good...

Valia wrote 10 years ago:

I read your post on Monday night and on Tuesday morning I went for the first time to a Dutch dentist. Before he started he asked me if I wanted anaesthetic and he answered to my probably astounded "yes please" that the Dutch usually don't want any anaesthetic! So I remembered your post and started silently laughing...

Ilzele wrote 10 years ago:

A really nice post! I think I might need to apply nr.1. more often - the North German weather is not being overly kind either :)

Lynn Morrison wrote 10 years ago:

I didn't realise how healthy I had it living in the NL until I moved away. Everything you said is true - from the Frisse neus halen (fresh air) to the extremely delectable (but eaten in moderation) poffertjes, to biking, family time and the bright sunny spirit of the land. Let me be Dutch - I love this post. It is a simple and direct as that.

Lana Jelenjev wrote 10 years ago:

Oh I am totally with you on the buy flowers! I don't have a green thumb but we try to have flowers at home at least every Friday. I have a nice red orchids on my table and it really gives a good feeling just looking at it whenever my mind wanders off! :)

Amanda @ MarocMAma wrote 10 years ago:

The more I've traveled outside the US the more I see a lot of the things you describe are common in other cultures. Here in Morocco natural remedies are HUGE! Many people are like to visit the herbalist before the doctor. Sadly, I've also seen more and more that when medication is prescribed it's not just a single thing it's 3-4+ prescriptions for simple illnesses. It's interesting to watch which way this will go in the future.

Roberta wrote 10 years ago:

Well, I can put these points in relationship with basically most of the counties. About point 3....yes they are very direct, sometimes to the point they forgot to take care of their business more than those of the others. Food habit here are sometimes scary....not to mention quality of fruits and vegetables (but I come from a sunny place, so the taste I have in mind is not something I can get here).Going out...yes, because if you wait the nice weather, you will end in spending most of your time at home :D For some point, I'm more dutch than italian, especially for the healthcare. I just would like, sometimes, that if I ask for something you respect my choice (especially if I'm paying myself for it).

Becky wrote 10 years ago:

I love this post! I have a good friend here who is Dutch with 3 lovely boys, plus I've been to The Netherlands several times, and I love the culture- everything you say is absolutely spot on!! I'm sending this to her now:).

Jasmina wrote 10 years ago:

I actually appreciate the " go natural" when it is to encourage the use of alternative medicines. This is one of the two/ three reasons why I would not leave The Netherlands that easily.

Magda wrote 10 years ago:

Go uitwaaien and the lack of too much medial care result in the survival of the fittest, tall and healthy and energetic win out

Arjan Tupan wrote 10 years ago:

Oh, yes, 'uitwaaien'. I'm Dutch, from The Hague originally, and 'uitwaaien' on the beach outside of the summer season is something I really miss now that I moved to other countries. And unfortunately for my love, I buy less flowers now that we don't live in NL anymore. In The Netherlands, they're fresh, reasonably priced and they stay great for a long time. OUtside of NL: neither of those.

Aneta Nott-Bower wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! Thanks for mentioning the Orange Rhino challenge. It's already helped so many mums all over the world! I totally get what you said about orange as a colour you don't instantly like (I would never wear it) but after a while you really begin to appreciate its positive influence.

Aneta Nott-Bower wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! Thanks for mentioning the Orange Rhino challenge. It's already helped so many mums all over the world! I totally get what you said about orange as a colour you don't instantly like (I would never wear it) but after a while you really begin to appreciate its positive influence.

Jess wrote 10 years ago:

I love living in Holland, for all of the above reasons, EXCEPT that orange. This particular shade will haunt me for all my days. Eating, yes. Wearing, no, no, NO. On Queen's Day, I wear a peachy tone and call it good. :-)

Lucie Cunningham wrote 10 years ago:

Hi, Good points! I had positive experience with taking on hobbies to meet locals. There is a genuine love for handcraft among children and adults in The Netherlands. One example that I did not see in other countries I lived in is creating jewelry, scarves and ornementa dolls uit of felt (vilten). http://www.omospop.com/index.asp?groep=t&subgroep=%22+Septemberspring+%22 There are many choirs and courses about singing and dancing, performing musicals and I find the talent at Tv singing show high.

Kornelia wrote 10 years ago:

Orange is one of my favourite colours :), my winter jacket is orange and drivers see me easily on zebra crossings with my baby carriage or even if the zebra is not there for any reason :), so its safe also :)! All the mothers of little children, wear orange! Ola, great post, loved the tips!

Jen Burden @WorldMomsBlog wrote 10 years ago:

Olga, Fantastic post! I know what you mean about the thin waffles with the caramel -- they're amazing! And when in Amsterdam last year, I couldn't believe all the colors of the tulips!! I love hearing about your life there! Jen :)

Helene Demetriades wrote 10 years ago:

Food is healthy in Cyprus globally and I eat local food a lot. I know the origin of most products and it is very reassuring. The landscape, lovely villages, the mountains and the sea are close and packed with great bars and restaurants: a wonderful way to escape. People are very family oriented, kids are welcome everywhere even late, and I have become so much used to have everyone even strangers say something nice to my little boy, and it goes on all day. Somehow it helps him be very self confident to always be noticed and appreciated. The weather is usually very sunny and the light amazing, and it makes you feel in a super good mood most of the time except when the temperature reaches 113 F in the summer. Cyprus is known to be the European country with most different species of flowers so in the spring the nature is full of vivid colors that I have never seen anywhere else. So I would say there are a lot of potential here in Cyprus to be happy on a daily basis!! Not mentioning the high level of security.

Rachel wrote 10 years ago:

Great tips! Sounds like a lovely place to live. I would love to visit some day.

Ewa "Mom Photographer" wrote 10 years ago:

Wow! It sounds like Holland would be the perfect place to live for me! I love orange, and everything orangy. The color, the smell, the flavor. That's why I like California so much, because the oranges grow here almost round the year everywhere. And I love walking. When I first got to US I felt pretty awkward because people normally drive everywhere, and I walk. They wanted me to drive somewhere, and when I said, I'll walk, they were looking at me like I am crazy ;) Great post, Olga!

AlfredFischer wrote 10 years ago:

Netherlands is no doubt a beautiful place, now a days there most spread-ed word is Makkelijk Afvallen, means easy weight loss. Obesity is increasing there too with a higher pace.!!

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