The online fitness programme ‘Fit Farmers’, recently concluded with significant health gains and notable improvements in fitness, strength and stamina as well as weight loss and reduced abdominal circumference.

These are important indicators in terms of health and risk, according to founder, nurse Laura Tully.

‘Fit Farmers’ is a six-week health promotion programme that kicked off in 2019 which aims to educate and empower farmers to improve their health and wellbeing.

The online fitness programme, being rolled out by Roscommon Sports Partnership, is usually delivered in local parish halls around the county via a series of face-to-face workshops and workouts. It is generally underpinned by close social interaction and group activity.

Covid-19 changes

Keen to continue working with farmers despite the Covid-19 pandemic and government restrictions, Laura modified her programme to meet guidelines and farmers in Roscommon were invited to participate in a novel online initiative seven weeks ago.

The ‘Fit Farmers at Home’ online fitness programme model recruited 16 people who signed up to the weekly Zoom. Participants could opt into a WhatsApp support group for daily motivation and access to expert support and advice. As part of the programme, farmers undertook healthy homework weekly and embarked on a ‘farm-to-5K’ challenge.

“I’m pleasantly surprised with the results of this modified programme,” said Laura who admitted being anxious about the challenges of remote delivery.

“Farmers connected via Zoom and stayed engaged over the six weeks and are looking forward to the day when we can all take on our 5K challenge together safely.”

Notable Fitness Improvements

Reviewing the results this week, Laura was thrilled to see that participants achieved substantial health and fitness gains.

The programme places a huge emphasis on the importance of physical activity for health and wellness. Laura considers movement as medicine and together with co-facilitator, Damien Martin, educated and supported farmers in undertaking their own physical activity plan.

Farmers began with the ‘Get Ireland Walking’ 21-day walking challenge and built up stamina, distance and speed weekly. Prior to the commencement of the programme only 12.5% of participants met the recommended physical activity levels for adults. Laura said:

“By week six, 75% of participants were physically active on five days or more days per week, thus meeting the national targets which, if sustained, could significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease; Type 2 diabetes; stroke; cancer; osteoporosis and depression as well as falls and resulting injuries.

‘Very happy with the results’

Suckler farmer Shane Naughton (48) lost one stone 2lbs as a result of doing the programme. “I wanted to improve my general health and fitness and lose some weight. The programme was pretty simple to follow and I was very happy with the results,” he said.

“I cut out eating a lot of bread and reduced my portion size but I still eat a good dinner. I also eat more fruit and vegetables. I started going out for walks and now have more energy and feel a good bit better. I found the general health education on topics such as cholesterol and cardio very good,” Shane added.

“I intend to keep up the walks and stay going with the diet as I hope to lose another half stone. The programme was all about small changes and I would encourage people to take it up as it puts you in the right frame of mind and helps you stay there.

“I think it’s a brilliant initiative. A few lads who have done the programme have said to me that they didn’t know where they would have ended up if they hadn’t taken part,” Shane said.

Benefits of online fitness programme

“The fact that it was online was a positive for me as sometimes things arose on the farm and I was able to combine dealing with them and doing the programme whereas if the classes were running as normal, I would have missed out,” Shane continued.

Other farmers were equally enthusiastic about their newfound fitness levels. “My plan is to get an exercise bike now and instead of taking my car or tractor to the farm or around it, I will keep walking,” reported a participant in their feedback.

Another also highlighted the value of encouraging farmers to walk in order to build up their fitness and sense of wellbeing.

“I loved getting out for the walks and leaving the farm and the work behind me. I plan to go for walks regularly now that I got started.

Profile of participants

14 of the 16 participants were males and ages ranged from 30-73, with 80% of those signed up aged more than 50 years.

14 of 16 participants reported increased energy levels at the end of the programme. 50% of participants pinpointed improved sleep and attributed this to increased physical activity. 12 of 16 participants also reported a boosted mood.

“Before commencing the programme, I found it difficult to motivate myself to walk regularly. I completed the 21-day walking challenge and continue to walk daily,” one farmer said.

15 of 16 participants reported improvements in dietary habits when compared with week 0. Participants told how they were eating more fruit and vegetables, incorporating ‘the rainbow’ – fruits and vegetables of different colours – every day and being mindful of what they consume.

Nutritional information

Several participants referenced the benefit of understanding nutritional labels, ingredients and the ‘traffic light system’ to their daily nutritional choices.

“I am watching what I eat. I am eating healthier, less white bread and smaller portions,” said one farmer.

Other responses included:

  • “I am eating more vegetables and fruit and a lot less chocolate and crisps”;
  • “I implemented simple and small changes as advised. Always having healthy options in the press and fridge makes a huge difference”;
  • “The workshop on cholesterol helped me understand it more, especially for my heart condition. I felt all of them were very interesting”;
  • “The workshop on sugar and diabetes was a real eye opener for me”;
  • “The workshop on heart health and cholesterol was very relevant for me and my family history. I feel I have a head start now in combatting issues”.

100% of participants said they would recommend the programme to other farmers, according to Laura.

“This kept me going, gave me more confidence and a better outlook on exercise. The daily check-ins with Laura really helped in the WhatsApp group and the weekly phone call gave me an extra boost to see where I needed to improve,” said one farmer.

“I also really enjoyed the Zoom every Tuesday, giving me extra information I didn’t already know.”

“I got the push I needed. It has been very interesting and informative and I am ready to keep it up now,” another said.

“For me, learning online worked great. I often listened to the workshop while I was out in the shed or tractor and didn’t miss any, even when the farm was busy.”

Despite all the positive feedback on the online offering, there was also the desire for human interaction.

“I would have loved to be in a real group for the exercise and to have chats with others, looking forward to the hike when we can do so as a group.”