Farmers from Moore – a small rural community in south Roscommon, between Athlone and Ballinasloe – are the movers and shakers of the country.

Laura Tully, institute nurse and health centre co-ordinator at Athlone Institute of Technology, is behind the ‘Moore movers’ initiative which is all about bringing fitness to farmers. It was launched on Monday night last, with the first ‘fit farmers’ session kicking off on Thursday last.

The programme which will run for six weeks, is in keeping with Athlone Institute of Technology’s healthy campus ethos of community engagement.

Among the attendance at the launch were the runners-up in RTE’s ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ competition, the McDonalds, who are farming movers from Ballyroan, Co. Laois.

Expert-led programme

Almost 200 people attended the community fair to launch the Moore fit farmers’ programme. Twenty-three farmers enrolled in the six-week intensive expert-led programme and a further 140 signed up to Laura’s twice weekly walking group.

“It was an overwhelming success, with almost every family in the parish represented in some shape or form,” Laura said.

Farmers, while initially apprehensive about the commitment involved, expressed how encouraged and supported they felt to find their peers undertaking the same programme, and being accompanied by their families.

Laura said the attendance of the McDonald farming family was a real boost for the farming movers. “They were inspirational. They really conveyed the importance of fitness for farming families and the benefits of exercise for mental wellbeing. Children were queuing for selfies with them all evening,” she said.

“I’ve coordinated a programme of health and wellbeing in this community for the past three years, using my professional background and experience to share evidence-based advice and information and helping people take steps towards better health and wellbeing,” said Laura.

“We have had tremendous results. You’ll not get far in our parish now without meeting a couple of high-visibility walkers and runners,” she said.

“As a nurse who resides in the community and having formerly worked as a practice nurse in the community, I became very aware of the toll farming has taken on the health and wellbeing of farmers and their families.

I have felt for some time that farmers often overlook the most important aspect of farming – themselves. I wanted to begin to specifically target a part of the community at highest risk of health issues.

“The Irish Heart Foundation’s ‘Farmers Have Hearts’ report confirms that the majority – 82.1% – of farmers reported being aware of family history of heart disease. Almost half of farmers – 46% – had high blood pressure, ≥140/90 mmHg. Almost half of farmers – 46.1% – had raised total cholesterol levels, ≥5.0 mmol/L.

“Farmers face increasing challenges with falling incomes; higher costs; increased regulations; unpredictable weather; isolation and long working hours. They often fail to recognise symptoms of stress, and are slow to take steps to reduce and manage it. My intention is to change this in 2019, starting with my local community,” Laura said.

She approached the local branch of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) in November and explained her vision. “This is a novel approach and required some coercion on my part but having gained the support of the branch members, I then felt I had a green light for my idea and approached Roscommon Sports Partnership / Sport Ireland for funding for an intensive six-week programme which could be delivered locally.

“Roscommon Sports Partnership is always really supportive of all my initiatives and approved funding which would get men active in Roscommon. With its support, barriers such as time, costs and travel were removed for farmers so I had no problems recruiting participants to a local programme tailored to meet their needs.”

Changing farmers’ lives

The Irish Heart Foundation provided free heart health checks on Monday afternoon last in the community. As well as Laura’s community walking group which meets two nights a week, True Fitness has designed a customised programme to change farmers’ lives.

“Dr. Diane Cooper’s programme provides nutrition for health, strength and wellness; exercise for health, strength and wellness; weight loss, if applicable; increased energy levels; and improved health in areas such as cholesterol and blood pressure and provides expert support for the farmers for the entire programme.

“True Fitness produces a report at the end of the programme which shows the achievements of the individuals so we will have evidence of how beneficial programmes like this are,” Laura said.