Amy Mydral Miller, Registered dietician
Amy Mydral Miller, Registered dietician
JUNEAU, Wis. – A new year can inspire resolutions with people, and that is what Jenna Gibbs encourages dairy farmers to consider as 2022 gets underway.
“When you treat your body well, you treat yourself well,” Gibbs said. “If you do fit in a 20-minute workout, you are more likely to eat healthier and manage your stress.”
Gibbs is a personal trainer. She joined registered dietician Amy Mydral Miller to speak about how to make choices toward a healthier lifestyle and tips for avoiding repetitive-movement injuries on the farm in a Professional Dairy Producers Dairy Signal webinar Jan. 4.
“The guidance that a personal trainer would give to someone in the agricultural industry would be very different from someone with a sedentary lifestyle,” Gibbs said. “Even within the industry, we know dairy farmers work much differently than people that have row crops, for example.”
Gibbs said she hears from dairy farmers who say their job is already physical so they do not think they should worry about fitness. Even though those on a dairy farm are getting in a lot of steps, it is still difficult to incorporate diet and fitness into their life. She tells people that focusing on their health is taking time for themselves. 
“Fitness is prioritizing yourself,” Gibbs said. 
Fitness can also help with pain management that may be caused by repetitive movements during chores.
A common ailment among farmers is back pain, Gibbs said. With chronic back problems, posture can be affected and the problem snowballs. Gibbs said core strengthening exercises can help counteract back pain. A simple internet search offers suggestions for at-home exercises.
“Sometimes when we think about corrective exercises or counter exercises, those can help with joint stability and managing that pain,” Gibbs said. 
Mental health is also positively impacted with exercise. Gibbs said sometimes the benefits of exercise are the same as prescribed medication when it comes to improving mental health. 
“You shouldn’t view fitness as just a way to burn a ton of calories or replace meals,” Gibbs said. “I really think you want to view fitness as getting strong, improving your life and improving your mental health.”
One concern Gibbs hears from active farmers about fitness is the worry they will be sore after a workout and be unable to perform their tasks on the farm to their best ability. Gibbs said that if someone is getting too sore from a workout, they need to reevaluate how they are exercising and make sure they are doing an appropriate fitness routine.
“A lot of times I tell people maybe your fitness routine should focus on mobility,” Gibbs said. “It doesn’t always have to be a yoga class, but maybe a yoga-type class that focuses on stretching and posture correction that can actually lessen your soreness. It depends on the individual.”
 Another concern Gibbs hears from farmers is the time restraints they face. While some people exercise in the morning, a more practical approach may be a small fitness regime at the end of the day, Gibbs said.
“The latest science on exercise shows you can change your life in 10-30 minutes a day,” Gibbs said. “You need to assess your physical activity and adapt your workouts to that.”
When struggling with motivation, Gibbs said to find support in others.
“I’m really not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, because as a trainer, I see 95% of people quit by Jan. 18,” Gibbs said. “Instead, tell people you are changing your lifestyle and ask them for support for the long run.”
Miller agreed.
“Just telling people that you are working on your health is a good start,” she said.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet is also beneficial in creating a better lifestyle. During the webinar, Miller explained how choices that are made when preparing food can be a fundamental part of changing a lifestyle. 
Miller said many farmers eat sandwiches for lunch because they can do so without stopping their day. A concern is that lunch meat can be high in sodium. 
“One way to deal with that is to look for a lower sodium lunch meat at the deli counter,” Miller said. “But if a sandwich is what you love, don’t beat yourself up about the sodium. Instead, put more vegetables in the sandwich, and use a whole grain bread or roll.”
Miller said most people do not know how to prepare vegetables, or they simply do not like to eat vegetables. She encouraged using convenient items like frozen options. 
“People get caught up in thoughts like, ‘Is there something in that bag that maybe is poisonous and I shouldn’t eat?’” Miller said. “Companies are not trying to kill us; they are trying to give us options. If that’s what gets you to eat vegetables, then go for it.”
Miller also recommended canned produce regardless of the sodium content.
“It’s likely there is actually more potassium than sodium which helps keep our blood pressure in a healthy range,” Miller said.
While Miller agrees that sodium in the American diet is an issue, she is more concerned about the lack of fruit, vegetable and dairy in people’s food choices. 
Breaking old habits and forming new ones can be difficult, which is why Miller encouraged people to make lifestyle changes as easy as possible.
“The best way to form a habit is to find the easiest way to establish that habit,” she said. 
With a new year underway, farmers are encouraged to take as good of care of themselves as they do their animals.