The Danes and Fitness, or Exercising in Denmark

The Danes are super into fitness. Super super super. One of the dialogues in my Danish language workbook claims that Denmark is the runningest country in the world. As in, a higher percentage of people run in Denmark than in any other country. And you can tell. A few weeks ago, after the gloomiest January in 24 years, we finally had a weekend of sunlight. And this is what happened:

The Pack Run!

Everyone came out of their winter hidey holes to run. Apparently in packs.

Not that the Danes don’t run when it’s rainy, snowy, and dark because they definitely do. They run always, no matter what.

And if they’re not running, they’re biking to work (which isn’t considered actual exercise as you’re merely biking to get where you’re going) or playing some sort of group sport. Because group sports are also big here. The second question a Dane will ask you after what do you do for a job (Hvad laver du?) is what sports do you do (Hvad går du til?).

So, of course, I have had to hide my general laziness these last few months.


And I have had to hide the fact that I hate running.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve finally admitted it. I HATE RUNNING! It’s boring and tiring and ugh… it kills my soul a little bit every time I try.

Now that being said, we have been desperate to find some form of physical activity to do lately since the Danes don’t seem to be very health conscious in terms of diet and all we’ve been eating is meat and potatoes and pastries and desserts and…. yummmm…. Really though, if you go to the grocery store it’s hard to find many of the “fat free” and “sugar free” options you see in the US. I, for one, am kind of excited about that, since most of those options are overly processed and full of gross fake sugar anyway. But it does indicate that the Danes don’t seem to worry too much about their diet. (As does the ritual Friday afternoon binge on gummy candy. A topic for another post.)

Why don’t they worry about their diet? Because they can! Because they bike to and from work, run every Saturday morning, and play handball twice a week.

The assumption that everyone does some sport is so huge that when Brian’s coworkers found out he wasn’t running they practically bullied him into signing up for a series of 5k runs over the next few months. As a result, last weekend Brian and I found ourselves in a Danish fitness center, signing up for new gym memberships. My time of laziness has come to and eng.

But I have to say, I’m so glad to be back in the gym. I had forgotten how much I love lifting weights. It gives you such a confidence boost. I’d been taking long walks and doing yoga – both of which I love for other reasons – but they’re just not the same as sweating it out in the gym.

So now I can say, with confidence, “Jeg går til fitness,” instead of lying about how I “go” to yoga when really I just follow along to a YouTube video in my house a couple times a week.




21 thoughts on “The Danes and Fitness, or Exercising in Denmark

  1. That is so funny. Here in France people consider my cycling to work as “sports” and I don’t. Now I know why; it is because I am Danish!
    P.S. A little correction: “Hvad går du til?”


    • Ahh, thanks for correcting my grammar! It’s been a few months since we did that specific phrase, so I was forgetting the very important preposition 🙂


      • I’ve seen very few people running around for fitness where I live in Bordeaux. I mostly see university students who are taking a sports class for credit and run to warm up and there are young people (many foreigners) running along the river. When I say young, I mean under 25.

        I hate running too and I hate the gym. I just try and do like French women (most don’t exercise at all) and walk everywhere and take the stairs. There are few gyms here and when you find one, it’s usually not very good. If I ever saw a French woman over 30 running alone, I would be very, very surprised.

        What a difference from Denmark!


      • I bet! I cannot imagine many french women running. It would not be elegant at all! 🙂 I thought that I would be fine here since we are walking so much more than we did before, now that we are living without a car. But apparently, I am eating enough to make up for those extra calories burned 🙂 Ah well. The pastries are worth a little time in the gym 🙂 But who knew exercise habits were such a culturally rooted thing?


  2. Yah you! Being inspired by these Scandinavians is a good life-long habit to get into, isn’t it?!

    And yes, they run in *all types of weather* – but we’re just not crazy enough to get out there with a camera to document it. 🙂


    • Exactly 🙂 I can understand, though, why you would develop the kind of attitude that had you running in all weather. With it being dark and rainy so much up here in the north, you have to just go for it!


      • Yes, you have to develop that attitude!

        But to clarify, I’m with you as to the whole running aspect (tried that years ago/been there, done that, turned down the t-shirt/never again). However, windy and rainy days usually are my favorite time to go out for a walk — as long as it’s not so strong I risk falling flat on my face!! 🙂

        But I do leave the camera at home!


  3. Which gym do you go to? I’ve been considering my options while I wait for my resident permit to go through ^^
    and don’t worry, I also hate running, haha! I’m more of a weight lifting and yoga person like you.


    • We just joined DK Fitness. The biggest perk is that it’s located near us, as it’s in the center of town. And their facilities are pretty nice. It’s exactly like the gyms I’ve joined back in the US. Maybe a bit nicer even. (Though also a tad more expensive than Club Fitness, my last gym.) We thought of joining DGI Huset since it’s actually closer to us, but their workout facilities are a little lacking. (They only had one treadmill!) They seem to be more of a place to do group sports.


  4. A Danish guy I know here was posting ‘just back from my morning run!’ on FB – it was -15 at the time. I wanted to go over there and slap him. 🙂 Fair play to you for getting back in the gym though – I really need to get my arse in gear! Did you hear about that giraffe in the zoo??? My Russian student was telling me about it this morning – have to say I think Danes are a little nuts after that…


    • No way! See, they’re always running 🙂 If I ate less I wouldn’t have to go to the gym, but I just can’t stand being on a diet. I’ll only get to eat real Danish pastries once in my life! I have heard about the giraffe. It caused a big kerfuffle. I haven’t really heard what the Danes think about the whole thing, though. Last year, they dissected a lion as a children’s education kind of thing.


      • About the giraffe. Many Danes think things like this: We eat meat. And we kill healthy young animals every day. It’s too stupid not to allow anyone to “know” or see it! In a zoo, you also have to kill quite a lot of young and healthy animals now and then. There is just so much space and you have to take care not to create any inbreeding. So: let people know. Let them see it, if they want to. In the zoos you can go and see that and hear biologists explain it in an absolutely splendid way 🙂 NB: Animals are not humans. Just saying. Phew… Did I get a bit too much 🙂 I don’t hope so.


      • Yeah, another Danish guy I know here (there are quite a few!) was saying that they don’t believe in hiding anything from the children – everything is open. Slaughtering animals and feeding them to other animals seems a bit much though!!
        You’d think that would put me off, but no, I’m still thinking YUM Danish pastries 😉


      • Well, this dane thinks it’s blown way out of proportions! I mean; it’s not like they just shot the animal for entertainment purposes, there was a reason. And it’s not like they just went ahead and did it in front of people without warning. The autopsy was advertised as a learning experience and people chose to bring their kids to see it. It was up to the parents to decide if they thought their kids would be able to handle something like that. Obviously, many people did think that they would.
        I live in the countryside, and my kids (age 4,8,11) think it’s fascinating to help out when we slaughter our chickens and lambs. And I think it’s a really important lesson for them! If meat is something that just comes from a pacage in the supermarket, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the mistreatment of farm animals. But if it’s something that comes from animals that you have helped care for and respect, then you value it a lot more!
        A friend of mine posted a picture on facebook of her daughter posing with a wolf at the Natural History Museum, and she got hatemail (in English, so presumably not from a dane), calling her eight year old a “natural born killer”. So, apparently in some countries it’s okay to call children murderers, but it’s not okay to provide them with a learning experience that will help create respect for nature. Okay then…
        The most hilarious thing about all this is the extreme lack of basic geograpy skills from some of the haters. They blame the Netherlands. Poor Dutch people, taking the blame!


      • Astrid, I totally agree. I didn’t read the full story, but if what they did was do an autopsy on a giraffe and then feed it to the lions and bill it as an educational experience for kids, I really don’t understand all the bad press. I think that sounds pretty interesting, actually. And I agree that people should know where their meat is coming from. Distance from that knowledge can only cause problems. I think it’s fantastic that you’re giving your children that opportunity. And, I hate to say this, but when we first told people we were moving to Denmark, they got it confused with the Netherlands all the time! We got many questions about canals and tulips until we clarified.


  5. I hate running too! I actually mentioned it in a recent post. I only do “fun” exercise like dance classes or aerial silks or skiing etc, and if it is not easily accessible for whatever reason, then I just watch videos and eat chocolate every day instead.


    • I was thinking about doing some classes, but they’re all in Danish and I’m just not ready for that yet. Have you found anything to do in India? Do they exercise regularly there?


      • I’m not in India anymore but when I was there since we were in the rural part there was really not many options except running, walking and biking. Some days I did the NYtimes 7 minute workout and I did some walking. I’m not sure what the exercising culture is, but Indians are pretty skinny in general so…


      • I thought you were going back to India, yes? Maybe I misread or misunderstood! I’ve been out of the habit of blogging lately, but obviously I’ve missed a lot that I need to get caught up on!


  6. Firstly, I never thought of weights as being confidence boosters, and secondly, it was ironic that our danish exchange student came to Australia because she was sport obsessed, and she ended up with us, a very non – sporty family like you. ( I hate running too, but I love walking and biking, just occasionally – guess that is the danish part of me) 🙂


    • I just started biking with our move to Denmark. I had biked as a kid but never really as an adult. And I really enjoy it now! I have trouble with the biking-as-transportation idea since I always get all hot and sweaty on my way in to wherever I’m going, and that’s quite annoying. But I do love the occasional weekend bike ride.


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