Farmers and agricultural workers have come together to share their experiences of how regular exercise has promoted a more positive outlook on life on and off the farm.
They were raising awareness while competing during the qualifier stage of Farmers Weekly‘s Britain’s Fittest Farmer competition, which aims to champion physical fitness and mental health in agriculture.
We spoke to some of the contestants about their take on the relationship between keeping fit and mental health, once they had managed to catch their breath following a series of blistering workouts.
Watch the video below.
Cornish dairy farmer John Osborne milks 300 Holsteins and dairy shorthorns, and said getting away from the stresses of the farm is important.
“Today’s competition was hard but it was really good fun with a good competitive spirit. I try to go to the gym three times a week.
“Basically, it gets me off the farm and meet different people. It’s a time where you can forget about all the problems of the farm and also it gives you a chance to put things into perspective. And that’s the thing, farming can be very lonely if you’re not careful.”
Student and seventh-generation farmer Ellen Barber said regular exercise is a must for her as a heptathlete, but it can have huge benefit for people of all abilities in terms of motivation and productivity.
“Training and keeping active definitely keeps you healthy and happy. Keeping active is the way forward for mental health.”
What is Britain’s Fittest Farmer?
This competition is designed to get all farmers thinking and talking about their health – physical and mental – to make sure they are in top condition to run their farm businesses.
It aims to support farmers’ amazing work to put food on our plates and care for our countryside, by helping them to ensure they are fit to farm.
We’re looking for farmers who make fantastic ambassadors for health and fitness in agriculture, to help break the taboo of talking about mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders and rural isolation.
Visit the Britain’s Fittest Farmer website for full details.
The 22-year-old, whose family runs the Barber’s cheesemakers in Somerset, helps out on the farm when she’s not at Loughborough University training for big sporting events around the world.
She said the Britain’s Fittest Farmer qualifier event was enjoyable and her training for international Heptathlon competitions, which includes the 100m hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin 200m and 800m running, set her up well for the event.
“I find weights quite easy because it’s what I do in heptathlon, and then the bike and everything else was tricky – but it was good fun.”
Rob Strawbridge, a dairy herdsman from Dorset, said his fitness journey started when he decided to lose some weight three years ago and it has also improved his mental wellbeing no end.
“I started CrossFit a few years ago. I had a bit of a belly at the time and wanted to lose a few kilos. So I started twice a week and that escalated to four or five times a week – I really enjoyed the buzz.”
He explained that he hadn’t fully appreciated that spending all day, everyday working and living on the farm was taking a toll on his mental health.
“I hadn’t realised how negative my mind was. Early hours on the farm, on your own and during lockdown – it was quite a struggle for me living and working in the same place.
“I’ve realised in the past 12 months how much of a positive fitness brings to me and my mind, it has made such a difference.”
The 33-year-old added that the Britain’s Fittest Farmer competition had been a “great day out” and he enjoyed spending time with like-minded people united in raising awareness for mental wellbeing and physical health in agriculture.
Meanwhile young farmers Dafi Davis and Natalie Evans from the Vale of Glamorgan said it can be tough to find time to leave the farm, and that’s proven even more tricky during the pandemic.
Dafi, 25, is from a farming family and the couple have just established their own starter flock of 140 New Zealand Romney ewes together.
“We don’t tend to train for the sake of training. All training is productive work as well – you can’t waste much time on the farm so we put both together,” said Dafi.
“During Covid, the workload seems like it increases because there’s no excuse to get off the farm. Having a scheduled training session or a game is really important to have something to look forward to and have a reason to get off the farm.”
He plays rugby and Natalie, 24, is part of a netball club.
“We found some old tyres on the farm and put together a little farm gym,” said Natalie, adding that making time to exercise aids a positive outlook on farming life.
“As much as we love farming, it is nice to not talk about it sometimes, and give your mind a break from the day-to-day life of farming.”
Britain’s Fittest Farmer: Our sponsor and partners
Tough, rugged, agile – the new INEOS Grenadier 4X4 will share plenty of traits exhibited by the winner of Britain’s Fittest Farmer. That’s why we’re so pleased to be sponsoring this rural British physical challenge.
As an uncompromising, no frills, off-road vehicle, the Grenadier will provide all the capability, durability and reliability you need to tackle the toughest tasks on the farm. That’s why we see ourselves as the ideal partner for this true test of grit, endurance and strength.
For more information on Grenadier, pay a visit to their website.
Farm Fitness: Partner
Farm Fitness has rapidly become a burning beacon on the UK fitness scene, attracting spectators and participants from all over the country to come and take a swing at its almost alchemic blend of modified strongman, functional bodybuilding, calisthenics and blistering cardio efforts.
The gym, founded by farmer’s son Tom Kemp, was voted one of the best gyms in the world and ‘coolest outdoor space’ by Men’s Health (PDF)
Tom has blended his farming background with his love of training to create a raw and exciting outdoor environment for people of all strengths and abilities to get fit.
The Farming Community Network: Partner
The Farming Community Network (FCN) is a voluntary organisation and charity that supports farmers and families within the farming community through difficult times.
The charity has helped thousands of people deal with a variety of issues, including financial difficulties, animal disease, mental health and family disputes.
Volunteers provide free, confidential, pastoral and practical support to anyone who seeks help, regardless of whether the issue is personal or business-related. FCN also runs a confidential national helpline and e-helpline.