Is this the toughest gym class in the world?

The Local watched in awe as pupils at a school in Stockholm plunged into the icy waters of a local lake as part of their gym class. Does this make them the toughest kids in the world?

Lakes in Sweden routinely freeze over at winter and crowds of people quickly congregate on top of the country's waterways as soon as the ice is thick enough.

In a place where walking and skating on lakes is second nature, learning what to do if you fall through thin ice is a vital and potentially life-saving skill. 

It's also extremely cold. Here's how one group of teenagers in Stockholm reacted to plunging into 2C waters.  

Our hats are off to these 14 and 15-year-olds, who didn't even have the comfort of a sauna to look forward to after their mid-winter dip.

They hopped in, clambered out, changed clothes, then coolly sauntered back to school. Gold stars all round.

But the cold was not even the greatest fear for some of the nervous pupils hopping about on the jetty to stay warm.

With big fish lurking in the dark waters under the ice, several pupils said they were most worried about being bitten on the toes by carp. We are happy to report that the fish didn’t take the bait.

SEE ALSO: Is this the strangest sound in Swedish?

The Local thanks the pupils and staff at Viktor Rydbergs Samskola for welcoming us to watch and for not making us jump in.


Swedish city Umeå has Europe’s cleanest air

Umeå in northeast Sweden, has been named as having the cleanest air in Europe, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Swedish city Umeå has Europe's cleanest air
Umeå city centre, home to Europe's cleanest air. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The EEA published The European city air quality viewer, an interactive tool showing the air pollution levels in 323 cities in Europe. Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk according to the EEA. 

“This city air quality viewer allows citizens to see for themselves in an easy-to-use way how their city is doing compared to others on air pollution. It provides concrete and local information which can empower citizens towards their local authorities to address the issues,” says Hans Bruyninckx, the executive director of the EEA.

The cleanest air out of all these cities can be found in northern Sweden, in the city of Umeå, which has a level of 3,7 micrograms of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per cubic metre of air.

The EEA’s classification of air quality defines four levels of air quality: “good”, “moderate”, “poor” and “very poor”, with “good air” defined as having under 10 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter.

Only 127 out of the 323 cities in Europe are found to pass the limit of “good air” set by both the EU and the WHO.

All of the Swedish cities included in the study – Uppsala, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo as well as Umeå, had “good air” according to the report. Uppsala ranked 6th out of the 323 countries tested, while Stockholm ranked 9th, Gothenburg 23rd and Malmö 93rd. 

Second and third in the EEA’s ranking are Tammerfors in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.

 “Very poor air” was defined as over 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air and five cities on the index are considered to meet  this standard. Worst of all were Nowy Sacz in Poland, where 27.3 micrograms of particles were found per cubic meter of air, Cremona in Italy and Slavonski Brod in Croatia. 

Despite a reduction in emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the remaining 196 countries were all found to have above acceptable levels of air pollution. While lower levels of commuting have led to a decrease in levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, levels of particulate matter have remained stagnant.

The EEA’s experts said that emissions of particulate matter are the result of many different processes, including combustion of fuel for heating of homes, industry, and agriculture.

“White air quality has improved markedly over the past years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many cities across Europe,” says Bruyninckx.

Last year, an EEA report found that Europe’s air has gotten cleaner in the last decade, but that the bad air caused 417 000 premature deaths across 41 countries in 2018 alone.

A similar study in The Lancet Planetary Health earlier this year found that air pollution causes around 200 000 premature deaths per year in Europe. They stated that if the pollution was lowered across Europe to below the limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meters, the levels recommended by the WHO, around 52 000 deaths could be avoided each year.