Long before people started paying monthly fees to work out at a gym, country folk were keeping in shape the old fashioned way: through hard work.
Just because you live far away from the gym doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health and fitness.
This article will show you 10 ways you can harness the power of country life to transform your health and fitness.
#1: Chop Wood to Sculpt Sexy Abs, Arms and More
When’s the last time you wielded an axe Paul (or Paulette)-Bunyan-style?
If you’ve done it before, you know it’s mighty hard work -- which makes for a mighty good workout.
Chopping wood not only works your arms: It also whittles your waist, strengthens your back and really works your glutes.
But beginners beware: you need to start slowly. Remember, unless you chop wood on a regular basis you will be using muscles that may have never been used like this before.
Start with a sharp axe that you can wield comfortably and a small pile of wood, maybe 5 logs. Rest for a day, then double your efforts the next day, etc.
Before you know it, you’ll have a full cord of wood and a rock hard bod to show for it.
#2: Use Milking Time to Strengthen Small Muscles and Grip
When we think of physical fitness, we usually focus on our large muscle groups and neglect to strengthen our smaller muscles and tendons—like those in our hands and forearms.
Grip strength, the physical strength of the tendons and muscles from your elbow to your hand, is an under-valued asset these days. But research has proven the strength of your grip is just as important (if not more so) than bulging biceps.
This 1999 study published in the Journal of American Medicine proved hand grip strength is a reliable predictor of old-age disability.
Plus, when you strengthen your hands and forearms you help protect yourself from certain inflammatory issues like tendonitis and sprains. A stronger grip will also help you lift more effectively, improve your baseball skills and help counter the repetitive stress of typing.
And of course you’ll have a firmer handshake.
Milking cows, goats or other animals is a perfect way to strengthen your grip and build more muscle while you work.
#3: Take Advantage of Chore Time to Exercise Your Mind and Improve Focus
Mindfulness, the ancient practice of focusing your awareness on the present moment, has gone mainstream, gracing the pages of such prestigious journals as Time Magazine and The New York Times.
Why the sudden surge in popularity?
Celebrity and athlete endorsements aside, the world’s pace has quickened in the last 20 years. No longer do we have moments of stillness that can’t be filled by apps, podcasts or social media -- and its taking its toll on our mental health.
Mindfulness offers a way to take back those moments of stillness that give our brains a much-needed break.
In fact, according to the UCLA Center of East-West Medicine, the benefits of practicing mindfulness for adults and children include less stress, curbed appetite, greater happiness/less depression, sharper focus, better sleep and enhanced immunity (to name but a few).
The kicker for most city-folk is finding a quiet, peaceful place conducive to practice.
Fortunately, this is not an issue for us country folk, as rural settings and homesteading lend themselves to the practice of mindfulness.
Remember, the point of mindfulness is not necessarily to sit out in a field chanting, but to focus your awareness on the present moment. And repetitive, simple tasks are ideal for this.
Activities that lend themselves to mindfulness include gardening, walking, milking animals, horseback riding, mending fences, staring up at the stars, playing in the dirt, climbing a tree, knitting, canning, etc.
And mindfulness isn’t just a mental exercise. It also helps regulate your stress hormones which can lead to a healthier weight.
#4: Ditch Your 4-Wheeler in Favor of Walking
If you have ample acreage, it can be tempting to hop on your 4-wheeler every time you need to get from A to B.
Instead, try walking more.
Not only will it burn calories, increase bone density, strengthen your heart and tone your muscles, it’s also a recognized longevity habit of centenarians everywhere and a great way to relieve stress.
The general recommendation is to aim for 10,000 steps a day.
You can use a pedometer or fitness app like Fitbit to track your steps. When you reach your goal reward yourself with an ATV ride.
#5: Horseback ride…for SO many reasons
If you’ve been on the fence about getting a horse or taking up horseback riding as a form of exercise, this study should cinch it for you.
According to researchers at Texas A&M, horseback riding can burn up to 200 calories every 45 minutes. Add in more strenuous exercises like cutting or reining, and you add an extra 7 calories per minute.
In addition, horseback riding is excellent for balance; focus; strengthening your legs, back and core; practicing mindfulness and reconnecting with nature.
#6: Set Up an Interval-Style Obstacle Course
In a previous Rethink:Rural article about staying fit in the country, north Georgia personal trainer Teryl Worster talked about how to use your rural land as an obstacle course.
Teryl recommended using logs for hurdles or weightlifting; PVC tubes and curved pipes for mini-hurdles and high jumps; garden hoses for quick feet exercises and ladder drills; and heavy rope for squats and other exercises.
“You can tie it to a fence or tree and squat while holding one end. Then fling it up and down and side to side—this will work muscles in your arms and core you never knew you had.
Many health and fitness experts now recommend interval training (short bursts of exercise followed by a period of rest) over lengthy cardio as a safer, more effective and efficient workout.
#7: Start a Garden to Build Strength and Eat Healthier
Gardening is not only good for the land, it’s a great way to stay in shape.
The bending, pulling, squatting, digging and heavy lifting all burn up loads of calories (around 300 calories an hour, more if it’s hot out) while strengthening major muscle groups like your lats, abs, glutes and quads.
In addition, the friendly bacteria you encounter from the soil, compost, etc., will build a healthier gut microbiome (the good bacteria that support your body’s immune system) which has been proven to help prevent obesity.
Growing your own food will also inspire your whole family to eat more fruits and vegetables and spend more time outdoors.
#8: Use Uneven Ground to Make Your Cardio More Effective
Walking, jogging or running are all great forms of exercise, but they are even more effective when practiced on natural, uneven ground.
The uneven ground forces more muscles to work harder to maintain balance—including those often-neglected small muscle groups. This means you get a better calorie-burning, strength building workout without increasing your speed, duration or distance.
#9: Set Up an Outdoor Sports Training Area
Why should the grown-ups have all the fun?
Rural living means you have plenty of farm acreage to set up outdoor sports areas for the whole family to enjoy staying fit.
- Try setting up a super-simple baseball diamond by purchasing inexpensive bases at the sports store, or using old burlap sacks/feedbags. Lay play sand for the paths and use fill dirt for a pitching mound.
- For pitching practice, set up tin cans on a fence and try to knock them down with the ball.
- If you’re more of a soccer family, buy two cheap goals and set them up at either end of the field. You can use spray paint to mark lines and you’re good-to-go.
- An archery station is another fun option, especially for teens and aspiring hunters. You can order age-appropriate supplies online and set up a safe space away from the house.
No matter what your family sport, rural land provides an ideal space to practice, have fun and stay fit together.
#10: Embrace Heavy Lifting (within reason)
If you’re running a 1000-acre farm, it makes sense to use all the tools and technologies available to lighten your daily burden of physical work.
However, for those of us with hobby farms or homesteads, embracing heavy lifting can help tone muscles, burn calories and increase confidence.
For example, ditch your cart or wagon and carry those water buckets or milk jugs to and from the barn.
Lift sacks of feed, seed and soil (using your knees, not your back) and pitch in at the neighbor’s during haying season.
All these little strength-building exercises will add up to a healthier body at the end of the day/week/month.
As you can see, rural living doesn’t have to mean giving up your fitness routine.
And, if you follow our advice above and look for everyday opportunities to exercise, country living can be your best personal trainer.
For more information on creating a country exercise program you can stick with, check out our previous article: “Staying Fit in the Country: No Gym Required.”
And if you're ready to look for the perfect property to start your country lifestyle, you can view land available throughout the South from North Florida to East Texas on Rethink:Rural's parent company's website, RaydientPlaces.com.