Members of the agricultural community have long known the country lifestyle is more than a John Denver song with fiddling and flapjacks on the griddle every morning. Between business decisions and the work itself, the stresses of farm life have suicide rates, obesity, and diabetes at higher levels than those of suburbanite and citified peer groups.
The relationship between stress, obesity, and depression, as well as other chronic diseases, is so well-documented one can’t tell the chicken from the egg. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that producers and business-folk alike embrace the full bounty offered in rural America, and that includes health and recreation.
As the owner of a 200-acre farm and active activist myself, I’ve spent the last several years assembling a barn full of barbells and dumbbells to go along with two dogs and some straw. For those of us who live miles from the nearest fitness center or gym, the time wasted driving to and from these facilities is obviously an inconvenience, which in turn becomes a cost.
That said, I just can’t fathom the idea of driving half an hour to walk on a treadmill inside a building when instead I can jog alongside my own cornfields or lift weights in my own pole barn.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the value of weightlifting in terms of beating back depression and anxiety, including a meta-analysis of studies performed by researchers at the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, involving more than 2,000 subjects. But more than the neurochemical benefits of increased dopamine and serotonin released via exercise, the value of physical exertion as a stress reliever is a familiar one to rural folk. My own 25-by-30-foot barn gym has become a bit of a clubhouse, not unlike a workshop, where my AM/FM radio is tuned in to The Legend 95.9 FM Classic Country, and my two Labrador Retrievers nap on the floor in between runs outside to chase a family of rabbits that live underneath the floor.
And of course the upside to owning a farm is the copious amount of acreage on which there is to walk, jog, or ride horses. Considering how much time and money is spent on our farms, by golly, we might as well get some value out of them health-wise. And the fact of the matter is, thanks to things such as high-tech tractors, GPS capabilities, and advanced milking systems, farming isn’t as labor intensive as it once was. One person can do a whole lot more now than they could a generation or two ago. Yet, the sedentary lifestyle once associated with city-living as crept into the farmscape and, with it, all of the ill effects on health.
As a teenager growing up on a farm in west-central Indiana, putting up 2,000 bales of hay in a day was a regular summertime activity. But with the advances in machinery, most farmers have gone to loading round bales with forks. Using a pair of hand-held fence post diggers has been replaced by PTO-driven drills, but the same biscuits and gravy are served for breakfast nonetheless. I haven’t seen farmers walking corn rows with a hoe to tackle horseweeds since more modern sprays and chemicals have fields pristine, but that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t needed both for fun and healthy stress release.
A quick scan at any list of top exercises will immediately strike the farmer as highly replicable. The irony of course is that modern athletes work hard to translate old-school farm work into their own regimens. Whether hiking, biking, rowing, or simply walking with buckets of feed, just about everything the suburbanites pay others to let them do inside a building can be done for fun at a farm, so long as some thought is put into it.
And this of course would include hunting and fishing. Yes, we’re giving you an excuse to strap up some weighted gear and go tromping through the woods on a long hike in search of the original health food — wild game. Whether fish, venison, or turkey, hunting is not only good for the body and soul, but the heart too, with great macronutrient numbers in terms of protein and fat. Add in a few extra days rowing about your farm pond in a boat looking for fish, and the overall picture of health and happiness could brighten a bit.
Lots on the mind
With grain prices at suboptimal levels, and fuel seeming to gain in cost, the stresses of farming are as great today as ever before. Farmers have always doubled as carpenters and mechanics, but nowadays, computer programming and chemistry are equal to accounting.
The agrarian field has always been both lifestyle and means of employment, and one without the other just won’t work. If stress, obesity, depression, and chronic illness, are plaguing your farm like locusts, try to remember all the intrinsic values of Mother Nature and the great outdoors. Incorporating exercise and better nutrition into the day’s activities can go a long way to improving the overall value of a lifetime’s investment.
Brian Boyce is an award-winning writer living on a farm in west-central Indiana. You can see more of his work at www.boycegroupinc.com.