Why it’s important for you to get fit

Why it’s important for you to get fit

So much of farming is so physically demanding. Even the easy jobs take enough running around to require physical stamina. And let’s face it, no matter where you are on the farm or who you are, if something is in front of you, the first option is always to just deal with it. This isn’t a job for anyone afraid of testing their limits.

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So it only makes sense that farmers stop listening when they’re told they should engage in exercise, which, in their minds, is defined as physical exertion that doesn’t get anything done, not even moving a bag of seed.

Besides, who has time?

Still, in today’s high-tech, high-voltage world, farming isn’t as physically taxing as it was for our parents or grandparents. And farmers don’t always stay as young as they might like to think.

So, there’s a lot more that today’s farmers can get from incorporating physical exercise into their daily and weekly routines than they used to, even if they don’t particularly care about carving a set of six-pack abs.

Plus, not only can the mental and emotional health benefits be life changing, but exercise can make you a better farmer too by making all those day-to-day stresses a little easier to tackle.

And you don’t have to sign up for a gym membership or assign a rigid workout routine every day to achieve these things.

Plus, it turns out summer can be the best time of year to get into the habit.

Jocelyn Velestuk, who farms near Broadview, Sask., with husband Jesse, admits she isn’t committed to a regular fitness workout, but she does try to make physical movement and exercise a priority.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find time… it’s really important to recognize we have ebbs and flows in life.” – Jocelyn Velestuk.

Supplied by interviewee

“I am not the kind of person who has had a routine of working out at 6 a.m. every single day for the past 10 years,” Velestuk says. “But I’ve always come back to fitness, and I think even just having that mindset means that I’m going to choose to go for that walk or do that different workout program to get a little more fit.”

Helping with the stress and strain

“Mentally, it can get tough in life for a farmer, and I’ve gotten to almost a freeze state, and it’s keeping moving that keeps me going,” Velestuk says. “The mind and body are connected and how we do things is part of that, just building movement into the everyday is so important.”

At the opposite end, Stuart Chutter began running in 2019, starting with a four-mile trot around a section of his farm near Melville, Sask., and today he is running ultra marathons, routinely covering 100 miles in a race.

But Chutter never set out to be a marathon runner, just to relieve some of the day-to-day stress of life on the farm.

“I was just a farmer running my farm. Then one day I went for a run,” Chutter says. “It wasn’t fitness-related or physical health-related, it wasn’t that I was going to go out and be a runner or that fitness was taking over my life. I felt like I had so much stress in my body that year, and I thought that maybe running down my gravel road might help take some weight off my shoulders and help balance things a bit.”

Chutter soon discovered that he loved running and has found a ton of benefits come from it besides just getting fitter.

“Running just called to me and it became both a stress relief and an escape for me, but also an expansive part of my life,” he says. “It’s so easy to identify as a farmer and the farm can consume you. Becoming a runner as well was not intentional but a way to rebalance things and expand my experiences and identity, and I think that, in itself, naturally helped deal with the stress and weight that can sometimes come with farming.”

There is so much emphasis today on farm business management, but Chutter has found that running has given him the time and headspace to have the important internal discussions that underpin good life and farm decisions.

“It was time away and time to think and process things. I found so many solutions on a gravel road, running,” he says. “Running has taught me so many lessons that are applicable to my life in terms of consistency, confidence, and what I am capable of. Exercise is just an example of the habits and consistencies that have overflowed into every other element of my life. Physical health is such a fundamental part of mental health.”

How to make time for fitness?

Velestuk is well aware that fitness also has to fit around the realities and rhythms of a busy farm and family life, plus other commitments such as her role as vice-chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.

“Life evolves as we go and sometimes it’s hard to find the time and prioritize fitness, so I think it’s really important to recognize that it’s okay, that we have ebbs and flows in life and that we just try something else,” Velestuk says. “A couple of summers ago, my whole family got into the routine of going for a walk every morning, and at the end of our walk, we would run along this giant row of bales. I am telling you, that’s a good workout.”

With small children interrupting any exercise she did attempt, Velestuk found creative ways to keep going while including them in the process.

“One winter I had two little ones and we went downstairs and started running as I did the laundry,” she says. “I set the timer for half an hour and gave the kids turns to lead my workouts. It was important for me to find other ways to exercise and to do that with the kids.”

What’s important is to just keep moving, Velestuk says.

“Some people think that in order to be fit we have to do something structured every day, and if we don’t, that it doesn’t count, and I think that’s really not the case at all,” Velestuk says. “It’s just about having movement as a priority. Last fall, I was driving the 1,200-bushel grain cart for two combines, and I had about 15 to 20 minutes in between dumps, so I would go park somewhere and go for a walk and take in the nature. Those little things for me, mean everything.”

Make it fun

Chutter’s tip for making daily physical activity a priority is to find something to do that you love and that is fun.

“Exercise doesn’t have to be painful or miserable or boring,” he says. “Just because you are laughing and smiling and playing it as a game, or going with neighbours, or going for group fitness, or whatever it is that makes it enjoyable, if that’s curling, baseball, a hockey league, running, biking; just because you are laughing doesn’t mean it’s not working, so find the thing where you are laughing and enjoying the process.”

“I am stronger in so many ways.” – Stuart Chutter.

Stuart Chutter

And you don’t have to stick to the YouTube stereotypes. “There is a perception that fitness means going to a gym and lifting something heavy and then you are going to be sore the next day and everything is going to hurt,” Chutter says. “If you like that, go for it. And if you like going out in the morning with your dog and a cup of coffee and walking to the end of the road to watch the sunrise, do that too.”

Don’t set unrealistic goals

It may not be possible to exercise every day and there may be periods when it’s just not going to happen. You can’t always be as physically active as you might want, so it’s important not to put pressure on yourself or set unrealistic expectations about your fitness goals.

“I don’t love routine, so I have to do what works for me at the time and give myself grace within that,” Velestuk says. “Sometimes it means things like taking the stairs when I am at a conference instead of the elevator. Things like that actually do make a difference. You might think, ‘this isn’t making me the fittess person’ but it’s actually keeping you at a fitness level where you feel better, and that’s what’s important.”

Exercise, of course, is just one part of healthy living. It’s just as important to eat healthy, but Velestuk believes these are all things that anyone can change at any time in their lives if they want to.

“We’ve had periods of time where we were just so, like, stressed and burnt out, and the kids were getting boxed macaroni and cheese,” she says. “But you can learn about what is best for your body and what you eat can make a huge difference to your mental health and ability to deal with stress. Dealing with stress, eating right and keeping moving is all important, and it’s never going to be perfect or even maybe consistent, so we don’t expect that. But I’m always making an effort to add something in.”

As a first-generation farmer, Chutter admits there were times, especially in the early days of his farming career, where the last thing on his mind was regular physical activity.

“That was fine, that was the season and that was what I needed,” he says. “Everyone is on their own path and prioritizing what’s important. For me and my farm journey as things progressed and I got things more under control I could make some of those intentional decisions about how I wanted to live. ”

Getting stronger in lots of different ways

It’s tempting to think that when you make time to do more physical activity, you will quickly see tangible results. And, after all, that is possible depending on the type of activity you undertake. So it’s quite realistic to expect biceps to bulge a bit more if you are lifting heavy weights on a regular basis, or for some body fat to shrink if you are doing daily high intensity workouts.

But even when you don’t see outward, physical changes, the benefits are still accruing and they will heighten your ability to tackle day-to-day tasks with less stress and strain.

“I’ve noticed that even doing everyday things on the farm, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been,” Velestuk says. “One time we had a flat combine tire, and nothing else there to lift it into the back of the truck. So, either I helped or we had to drive 30 minutes to get someone to help. You don’t want to hurt yourself but you also want to be able to do things like that. We move a lot of corral panels, so maintaining strength in order to do stuff like that is important, but you also get stronger by doing the work too.”

Chutter has also been surprised by the improvement in his farm work.

“I can jump over a gate; if a cow is going around a corner, I can just be over it and turn her around, or throw bags of seed around, it didn’t take too long after incorporating fitness into my life that I would be out doing things and realizing this is easier,” he says. “I am stronger in so many ways.”

Besides the ability to perform physical tasks more easily, Chutter has also discovered a deeper connection to and appreciation for his land and his farm.

“I am out on my land more and I see more, understand it and can manage it better,” he says. “I am running down my roads seeing things all the time, I am just so much more aware of what is going on in my fields, with my livestock, in my community. It has given me more exposure to my farm, again not intentionally, but I know what that fence looks like, where all the fox dens are…”

Chutter runs because, to him, fitness is about living a full life on and off the farm. “I want to work hard on my farm and be able to get up and do it again tomorrow,” he says. “I want to be healthy and live a long time, I never want to have to say no to something because I can’t keep up.”

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