There seems to be a stigma around exercise in many rural communities: if you’re working hard, you won’t need to run (making those who do actually appear lazy). Perhaps it’s a belief stemming from our ancestry. Farmers worked the land on the end of a rough plough, threshed and stooked with little help from machines and were seen as incredibly fit. Most farmers still work incredibly hard today, but typically from a slightly more reclined, air conditioned position.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week for adults between 18 and 64. Moderate-intensity physical activity, like a fast-paced walk or cycling, increases your heart rate and makes breathing more difficult. You should be able to talk, but not sing. Conversely, vigorous-intensity physical activity like running will make it difficult to speak more than a few words without needing to catch your breath.
Think about the last few days on the farm. Were you ever out of breath? Was it from sustained physical activity or from pulling a few wrenches?
It’s not easy to make the time to devote to exercise — especially on the farm — but it’s more than worth it. Besides improving your physical health, staying active also improves mental health. There’s the immediate “runner’s high” made possible by endorphins (neurotransmitters that reduce pain perception), and the added long-term benefits of more energy, greater productivity and improved self-confidence, all of which lead to improved mental health.
Too windy to spray? Hay too tough to bale? Grab your runners or bike and give yourself some quality time with the earth. Challenge yourself. Set a goal. Sign up for a fun run, fundraiser or racing event and make it a family endeavor. You never know, you may just like the happier, fitter you.
An interview with Terry Betcher, farmer and exercise fiend:
- When did you start taking exercise seriously? Why?
I’ve been into sports and athletics my whole life so I’ve always thought I took exercise fairly seriously. I realize now after what I’ve done lately that I really haven’t taken exercise seriously until the last couple of years. I played a lot of hockey earlier in life which included lots of practice time, I ran a few marathons in my 30s, but I never put the effort into either one of those activities as I have into triathlon now. Some people would call it an addiction. I prefer to think of it as a way of life. Why do I do it? Because I can is the short answer. I really enjoy
it. The sense of accomplishment it gives can’t be duplicated elsewhere. The time running or biking gives me a lot of thinking time to solve life’s dilemmas. Another reason is that in 2007 I was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve that would have to be replaced at some point. I had no idea I had this ’til then. I had open heart surgery in June 2010. While on my stay in the cardiac ward for the surgery I saw the other men who also had open heart surgery. Most of them were because of clogged arteries, not a defect. They were in terrible physical condition, many needing two nurses to help them get out of bed. I made a promise that I would do as much as I could to keep my body in as good of condition as I could. Since that day my amount of exercise I do has increased continually. I am far more serious about physical activity and nutrition now than I ever have been.
- What was the latest race you took part in? How did it go?
The last race I was in was a half Ironman triathlon in Galveston, Texas. This is a 1.2 mile swim, then a 56 mile bike, then a 13.1 mile run. Swimming is my weak link. We had no indoor pool within 100 miles of us so really had no training. The morning of the triathlon the weather was quite windy and the water was really rough. A lot of people didn’t make it through the swim. I didn’t think I would either but a little bit of farmer perseverance carried me through. When I got out of the water I knew I would be fine. 2 flat tires slowed up my bike split and taught me some more patience. The run was humid but went really well. I had followed a training plan that had me prepared for the distance and so I was comfortable in completing it. Like farming, you learn from every experience and hope to get better for the next time.
- Has it been difficult to maintain a consistent regime while farming? Particularly in busy seasons?
Yes it is difficult to maintain a fitness routine being a farmer. There are times in the year (fall especially) that every waking hour is needed to get the job done. I have to work hard to sneak in a workout here and there. My training falls off significantly through harvest, but there is always some time to get some exercise in.
- What benefits have you seen as a result of your training and why should others be inclined to start?
The benefits from training are many. We all know we should exercise more but often don’t want to or don’t think we have the time. Our ancestors worked much harder physically than we do. Exercise was part of survival. Our bodies need to exercise to be efficient. So the health benefits are obvious. Another benefit is the stress reliever. I mentioned this is my thinking time. I also use the time to listen to a lot of ag podcasts. I hope my kids will desire to be active in their life as well. The benefits are endless.
- Has it helped your productivity on the farm?
Farming and training have helped each other out. Combining late at night or running a marathon both take physical and mental strength. I’ve applied the training to mentally continue that long run or ride and used it to be able to work long hours when shutting done would be so easy. Perseverance is a quality that can be trained and improved upon.
- What advice would you give people (particularly farmers) who are thinking about starting an exercise program?
Anyone thinking about starting an exercise program should just start. Start slowly and take baby steps. There are great online programs out there — like “Couch to 5K” — to guide you through the process. Sign up for a local event. If you aren’t quite there yet, go out and volunteer — the enthusiasm is addicting.
Try and turn it into a way of life and not a chore that you must do. Get together with a friend for walks or runs. I try to see as many sunrises as I can; life is to short to be lying in bed. Get out and enjoy nature. You don’t need a gym membership to get physically active.
- How do you measure success in fitness? How should others? Success is measured by your enjoyment, your health, and your attitude. Physical activity has improved my health, given me great enjoyment and boosts my attitude, not to mention my increased work ability by being in better physical condition. Everyone needs to find what works for them; everyone is different. Try a walk or run a few times a week and watch the difference in your life.
Careful though, it can be addicting.
An interview with Lyndsey Smith, journalist, once-a-runner-now-trying-again-to-be-a-runner and Crossfit beginner:
- What physical/mental benefits do you gain from working out?
More focus and patience for the tasks at hand. Especially if I’m tired! A workout usually works far better than a coffee to perk me up (but I still love coffee with all my heart)
- What’s your favourite workout?
I’ve been going to Crossfit for a year — I love the Bear Complex, or anything with sled pulls or tire flipping (it makes me feel very mighty. It’s great for the confidence)
- How do you combat time constraints?
I’d love to say I have it figured out, but it’s always a struggle to get workouts in, especially in the busy conference season. Lunch hour workouts seem to work best.
- Why should people make physical activity a priority?
We take our health and our mobility for granted. Staying mobile and fit now will pay dividends in the long-term. Plus, no one likes being stiff and sore on a daily basis. Take breaks, learn some good stretches, get your heart rate up. It’s good.
- How does someone who’s relatively inactive start exercising?
Can you walk? Good. Start there. Just walk — walk more, walk instead of drive, walk faster. Start with a five minute circuit of squats, push ups, lunges jumping jacks and sit ups. Build on that.
- What are your tips for newbie runners/cross-fitters?
For runners — start with 1 and 1 – run one minute, walk one minute (and I mean a shuffle, not a sprint). Start at twice to three times a week. Add a minute or so per week of the run part and you’ll be at 10 and 1 in no time. Join a running group. Sign up for a 5 km, if you need the motivation. As for Crossfit — the fundamentals class seems like a cash grab at first, but I assure you it isn’t. Learning to do the lifts and other movements correctly is so key to making Crossfit work. And, heck, if you can’t get to a gym, or you hate running, it’s super easy to build a circuit at home. Try this: Run for 2 minutes do 40 squats, 30 sit ups, 20 pushups, 10 tricep dips…as fast as you can. Not enough of a challenge? Do it three times.