It’s been said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well, so does a spring fitness program for farmers who want to invest in their health and wellness, says grain farmer and high performance athlete, Gary Chambers of Morin, AB.
A fourth-generation grain farmer who also works full-time as a real estate agent, Chambers holds a Phys Ed Degree from the University of Alberta. When he’s not working his 2,400-acre farm, Chambers races mountain bikes. And when he’s not working, racing or doing family stuff with his wife and son, he’s training.
“My friends joke that it’s not normal to train like I do. I get that. But I also think that we’re fooling ourselves about our fitness levels,” says Chambers. “Today’s farmers are carrying huge amounts of stress. We’re working with big numbers and big equipment and that takes a toll on health and wellness,” he explains. “By the same token, our parents were driving themselves more, physically. Many of us are simply not nearly as healthy as our dads were when they were farming. ”
While Statistics Canada does not collect health and wellness information specific to farmers, you don’t need to be a medical detective to see correlations between general health statistics and the farming population. By 2016, the average age of Canadian farm operators was 55.
That puts farmers in the middle of a Canadian cohort, aged 45 to 64, where 70 per cent are overweight or obese. Close to 30 per cent of that same age group has high blood pressure, which can be a sign of heart disease.
But what can you do if you aren’t an elite athlete and don’t have access to training programs and gyms? You take one step and then you take another, says Chambers.
Start slow, finish strong
Health professionals recommend 2. 5 hours of cardio a week. Cardiovascular exercise is aerobic, which raises your heartbeat and increases your oxygen intake thereby strengthening your heart and lungs. Set yourself a workable goal, says Chambers. “Take a 15-minute walk down the road and you’ll have 30 minutes by the time you get back home. ”
A new workout routine is going to tire you out so go to bed a little earlier and pay more attention to what you’re eating, says Chambers. “You can’t out-train a bad diet. ” As your cardio fitness improves, you’ll walk farther, faster and you’ll carry that physical and mental energy into the rest of your day, he says.
No one can stick to a fitness program every day of every week, says Chambers, who admits to gaining a few pounds every harvest. Instead of beating himself up over missed workouts, Chambers picks up where he left off. These days, he uses late fall and winter to build the physical fitness that fuels his spring fieldwork and summer bike racing.
When there’s no time for meal breaks, let alone fitness routines, Chambers makes exercise part of his field bio-breaks, performing squats, walking lunges, cardio — like jumping jacks or running on the spot — and stretches to balance all that sitting. “Four, 20-minute breaks a day adds up,” says Chambers.
Farmers who don’t know how to start an exercise routine, and those concerned about pre-existing issues like knee or back pain, should start their fitness journeys by visiting their doctor, says Shannon Penfound, a personal trainer with the Canada Games Sport for Life Centre in Winnipeg.
Once cleared to start training, find a personal trainer or physical therapist who can teach you how to do exercises that will reduce knee or back pain by building supportive muscle tissue. If you don’t have
time for regular sessions with a trainer but want the direction of an exercise leader, find a YouTube routine to follow, says Penfound.
Cardio, which builds heart strength and lung capacity, is essential, she says. She also recommends fitness newbies focus on exercises that increase strength, flexibility and stability. Her top two, squats and planks, don’t need equipment and are the kind of exercises you can do during those field breaks recommended by Chambers.
Research shows it takes time to start a habit. “Figure out what works for you,” says Chambers. He suggests farmers try wearable fitness tracking technology or program their phones to signal fitness reminders.
Since guilt about work and family time can sidetrack fitness, he also encourages farmers to talk to their families about what they’re doing and why it matters. “No one would make you feel guilty if you were starting a fitness routine after a heart attack, so you shouldn’t feel bad about taking time to prevent one either. “