The enthusiastic response to the Farmstrong Cycle Tour shows the fitness message is getting through to farming communities, says Fit4Farming Cycle Tour leader Ian Handcock says
Ian was one of a core peleton of 20 riders who rode 1,400 kms from the Hauraki Plains to Bluff to raise awareness about the importance of keeping fit on the farm.
He says the tour was organised so that farmers and their families in each region could participate in event days, and join in organised rides or a walk.
“We rolled out of Ngatea on a rainy morning and we had 200 riders for the first ten kilometers which was fantastic. We had another 100 in Cambridge. It built up as we went down the country.” Over 200 farmers participated in the Southland event day.
Ian says that as well as being a fun event, the tour was promoting a serious message to rural communities about health and wellbeing. The Tour attracted a lot of local media coverage as it made its way through the various regions.
He says it’s a common misconception in rural communities that farming makes you naturally fit. Research has shown that farmers health and fitness is not as good as it needs to be.
“We thought farmers were fit but when we did some research around the health of farmers, and Dairy NZ did a lot of work around that, that wasn’t the case. When we actually measured heart rates, we found farmers weren’t getting out of the low heart rate zone.
“They weren’t burning calories, or getting the endorphins and adrenalin going to properly manage stress. Our message to farmers is get out on the bike or go for a walk or run and get your heart rate up.
“If you are fit and active and healthy you can manage stress better. It’s as simple as that. My advice to farmers is get off-farm and do some type of activity. Don’t stay inside your farm boundary and get isolated. Talk to others. Get that adrenalin going, get the endorphins running.”
Ian says the cycle tour was a great way of getting farmers off the farm, connecting with others and getting them fitter and healthier. It also had great social value.
“At the event days we’ve noticed that people want to share their stories and talk about the issues on their mind. It helps them open up. We’ve all got a story to tell and the more we connect with others through exercise, the easier it is to manage stress and fatigue.”
Ian says a good level of fitness is essential for managing the challenges of farming.
He says the farmer riders who comprise the peloton lead busy lives themselves and are an example of the need to make wellbeing a priority.
“These farmers have taken time out from their businesses, they’ve found time to be able to include cycling or running as part of their day. When you prioritise it, you’ll find time.”
Ian hopes that farmers who came along to the regional event days made looking after their health a greater priority.
“The first step is go to your doctor and get your numbers checked, things like your heart rate and blood pressure. Then take a look at your business. If you think farming is hard, ask yourself, is it hard physically or mentally? If it is physically hard address that, if it is mentally hard, address that.”
Ian is passionate about New Zealand becoming the fittest farming nation in the world.
“With a bit more exercise, imagine the benefits you’ll gain in the way you run your business, support your family and staff”.