The Farmers’ Workout

January 10, 2011
Cattleman

A farmer saves a newborn calf from deep mud in a pasture near Albia last spring.

If post-holiday television ads are any indication, then a lot of folks are making resolutions this year to lose weight and adopt healthier habits, like quitting smoking or joining a gym.

Back when I was growing up, my parents would always go on a fitness bender after the holidays. I still giggle when I recall the times my dad would work out to Jane Fonda fitness tapes alongside my mom. It was his attempt to avoid gaining weight when his farm chores slowed down in the winter.

Indeed, some of the fittest people I’ve ever met are farmers, particularly livestock farmers. And it’s no wonder. Their daily workouts often include lifting 50-pound seed bags above their shoulders, chasing down loose piglets or carrying 100-pound calves out of the mud in the spring.
In fact, I bet I could make quite a bit of money if I released a new exercise video based on “The Farmers’ Workout.” I’d be sure to include all the fitness lessons I’ve learned from farmers over the years, such as the following tips:

-Keep moving. Farmers spend most of the workday on their feet, whether they are shoveling snow, checking on livestock or coaching their kids’ basketball teams. I once met a 70-year-old farmer who walked laps in his machine shed in the winter to stay in shape. Fitness experts often recommend walking 10,000 steps a day, the equivalent of 5 miles, to help with weight loss and maintenance. But any regular physical activity can help boost your overall health.

-Get outside. For many farmers, working outdoors is the best perk of their job. Yet farmers also don’t have the luxury of staying inside when the weather gets cold. The cows still need to be milked twice a day, and the cattle don’t feed themselves. So follow the farmers’ lead and do something active outside, even in the winter, if the weather cooperates. Get a pair of snow shoes, take your kids sledding or go for a walk around the neighborhood. Just be sure to bundle up in warm layers of clothing, and invest in a pair of Yak Traks or other traction footwear if the sidewalks are icy.

-Fuel your body. Dairy farmers often sit down to breakfast after they finish milking cows around 6 a.m. Research shows that fueling up with a good breakfast, including lean meats, eggs and dairy foods, aids in weight loss. And most farmers are avid milk-drinkers. Whenever Farm Bureau hosts its annual young farmer conference, the caterers know to stock up on milk or else they will quickly run out of this most-requested drink.

While we can benefit from following a farmer’s fitness and nutrition regiment, we can also avoid some of the not-so-healthy habits that farmers are sometimes guilty of adopting. For example:

-Don’t ignore your health. Farmers will continue working even if they have a broken bone from a cow that stepped on their foot. And all too often, farmers don’t take time from their busy days to visit a doctor. But it’s important to schedule regular check-ups to identify your risk factors for chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. By identifying the warning signs early on, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid a costly and debilitating health problem.

-Protect your skin from the sun. Working outdoors all day, farmers are at greater risk for skin cancer, which can be fatal if not treated early. My dad, who has a permanent “farmers’ tan” on his neck and forearms, had a skin cancer growth removed from his left arm a few years back. Make it a habit to apply sunscreen before you head outdoors.

-Don’t eat farmer-sized portions. Farmers can burn quite a few calories going about their day-to-day chores. But if you spend your days working in front of a computer, it’s best to keep your portion sizes smaller to avoid weight gain. The Mayo Clinic offers a terrific visual reference for portion control. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/portion-control/NU00267)

Is your New Year’s resolution to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle? What positive changes have you already made to improve your health and wellness?

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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