A woman with four young boys smiling standing in front of cattle.

Farmers swap boots for sportswear to reduce injuries and improve mental health

When cattle rancher Ashlee White describes her fitness routine, it’s hard not to compare it to the job she knows best.

“It’s not like pulling a calf!” she says.

“You will do something and someone will shout, ‘Oh, it’s like you’re cleaning a trough.

Once a week, Ms White swaps her jeans and boots for sportswear to join other farmers in Wallumbilla, five hours west of Brisbane, for a grueling workout.

They are among hundreds of farmers across Australia who are embracing Active Farmers, a non-profit initiative to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of people in towns with fewer than 1,000 people.

Since starting circuit training in May this year, Ms White has noticed a change in her physical ability on her West Queensland cattle estate.

The Wallumbilla Active Farmers session has been gaining members since it started earlier this year.(Provided: Sally Kardosch)

“Farming is really physical…but at certain times of the year you get into certain activities and you think, ‘Oh, I have a really bad back,’ or something like that,” Ms White said. .

“I know it’s only one day a week, but it’s definitely helped me with general stiffness and things like holding something or picking something up in a different way.

“You’re all farmers and you’re not triathletes, but you’re all out there trying.”

An injury industry

The physical demands of farming are significant, whether it’s lifting heavy objects and animals, sitting awkwardly on machinery, or dodging rogue livestock.

Injuries are common, with almost 60% of agricultural injuries occurring in Queensland in 2021, according to Farm Safe Australia.

“With the increase in mechanized farming and technological improvements on farms, the needs are even greater because these tractors can literally fly on their own,” said Active Farmers Managing Director Justin Sampson. .

“It allows them to stay in the cabin longer, and therefore not eat as well or exercise, which affects their sleep patterns.”

As well as the physical benefits of the initiative, Mr Sampson said it aims to support people’s well-being and take a preventative health approach when there are fewer rural support services.

“Country towns are shrinking, and so are these services,” he said.

“We need people to have a connection and maintain relationships and friendships.”

Smiling man and woman standing in front of gym equipment.
Personal trainers Dan Facer and Lindy Wilson started Active Farmers sessions in Pittsworth in the Darling Downs.(Southern Queensland ABCs: Anthea Moodie)

The program is spreading across regional Australia with Pittsworth on the Darling Downs the latest to sign up.

Personal trainer Lindy Wilson doesn’t accept rejections when arranging her sessions, which are specifically tailored to the needs of farmers.

“We’re targeting core strength and a bit of leg strength, so you don’t just bend over and throw your hay bale, there’s a way to do that,” she said.

“You can have more longevity in your job and hopefully have injury prevention as well.”

mental benefits

The benefits of group exercise go beyond the physical, also support the mental health of group members.

A man leaning against a wall smiling.
Stuart Biddle says group exercise promotes positive mental health.(Provided: University of Southern Queensland)

A farmer dies by suicide in Australia every 10 days, according to a study by the National Rural Health Alliance.

This caused the farmer suicide rate between 2009 and 2018 to be about 60% higher than other industries.

Professor of Physical Activity and Health at the University of Southern Queensland, Stuart Biddle, says physical activity is important for improving mental health.

“One of the ways physical activity could benefit your mental health is that it creates a small distraction from negative thinking,” he said.

“The evidence is pretty good that if you show up to work feeling good about yourself [and are] you feel physically fit, you work better and you enjoy it more.”

For Mrs. White, an hour can be enough to unwind from the pressures of farming with four young sons by her side.

“You laugh a little bit and you get hot and sweaty,” she said.

“It’s only an hour, but you don’t have to worry about everything that happens at home for an hour.”

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