We tend to imagine farmers as being active, fit, strong, healthy and social professionals but the reality is that farmers have a very poor personal health profile, writes Laura Tully, Movement & Motivation Mentor.
A study carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation in 2015 found that almost half of Irish farmers had high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels and the vast majority were overweight or obese.
This means that Irish farmers are a particularly high-risk group for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Ireland. Half of farmers suffer chronic back pain and 80% of those working in agriculture suffer some form of musculoskeletal disorder.
Farming is listed as the most dangerous occupation in Ireland, with the majority of workplace accidents occurring on farms. By its nature, farming is an isolating profession which is a main driver for poor mental health.
Combine that with being at the mercy of Mother Nature, commodity price risks, financial stress and limited access to health and wellbeing services and you can see how the challenge of maintaining good health in farming can become overwhelming.
I have been a nurse now for 20 years and during those years, I have worked in a variety of care settings where I have encountered farmers professionally.
In my experience, farmers generally tend to overlook the most important aspect of farming, themselves. Too often aches and pains are pushed aside, symptoms are disregarded and health concerns are ignored and overlooked with detrimental outcomes.
As a result, I have developed a passion for empowering and educating farmers to prioritise themselves, their health and wellbeing so I developed the concept of a ‘Fit Farmers’ programme in 2019 and have created and facilitated programmes of health and wellbeing for almost 100 men in Roscommon to date as well as providing advice, guidance and support to others across Ireland who are also keen to take proactive steps to health and wellness.
Roscommon Sports Partnership is launching my ‘Operation TransFARMation’ programme 2020 in Roscommon next week.
This programme of workshops and physical activity workouts is specifically designed for farmers and is fully funded and co-facilitated by Roscommon Sports Partnership and endorsed by the regional executive of the Irish Farmers’ Association, who have partnered with the programme to provide a back and joint care programme for farmers delivered by a chartered physiotherapist.
The participants will be educated about ways to wellbeing for 2020 throughout their programme of workshops both as a group and individually but I’m sharing some of my top tips for wellbeing for readers of ThatsFarming.com who might like to undertake their own Operation TransFARMation over the coming weeks.
- Have a 2020 health check: regular health checks are important in order to monitor your general health and physical wellbeing. If you have a niggling health worry, don’t ignore it, talk to your GP so that they can help identify any health issues and intervene early and appropriately.
- Move more: Ensure that you are undertaking at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on 5 days per week. During moderate activity, your heart is beating faster than normal and your breathing is harder than normal e.g. walking and dancing. You need to include muscle strengthening and balance activities 3 times per week e.g. digging and gardening. Make moving every hour that you are awake your 2020 mantra!
- Eat healthily: Make small, simple swaps for sustainable change. Your nutritional advice should come from a reliable source such as a registered nutritionist or dietician. I recommend farmers have three main meals with two healthy snacks daily. Always eat a breakfast and eat regularly throughout the day. Remember to watch portion sizes and add colour to your meals, making sure you have 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables every day and include your homegrown for best flavour! Balance your energy levels by focusing on fibre, protein and fat at every meal, eat oily fish twice a week, eat less processed food, choosing food in its natural state more often and restrict foods which contain sugar and salt. Ditch those fizzy drinks! More information can be found here.
- Drink water: Your body is made up of between 50-70% water so it’s important to keep replenishing it during the day. Aim for 35ml for every Kg you weight. On a day of strenuous work, you might need to increase this.
- Reduce alcohol: Alcohol is high in sugar and calories and drinking more than the recommended amount can be harmful to health. For women, the recommended maximum limit is 11 standard drinks a week and for men, it is 17 standard drinks a week. A standard drink is half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.
- Stop smoking: There are lots of good reasons to stop smoking. You are five-times more likely to quit smoking forever, if you stop smoking for 28 days. The benefits of quitting start right away. Sign up to the HSE Quit Programme which offers support tailored to your needs.
- Sleep: Sleep regulates mood and is vital for learning and memory function. Sleep affects our health, weight and energy levels so it is important to get enough sleep to keep these in an optimum range. Adequate sleep will help you face the day with your best foot forward, sleep will help you on the road to good fitness, good eating and good health. Adults should optimally receive between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, but those needs vary individually. Sticking to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time can be an insurmountable challenge for farmers particularly at this time of year. Naps are best avoided though as they can interfere with sleep at bedtime. The bedroom should be cool, free from noise, light and distractions. Your mattress and pillow should be comfortable and supportive. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed avoiding electronics and doing a calming activity such as reading.
- Press pause: Make time to connect with the people that matter to you. Take time to attend to the present moment to improve your mental wellbeing. Learn more about the five ways to wellbeing promoted by Mental Health Ireland here.
Image credit: Joe O’ Shaughnessy