Exercise and Physical Activity: Is There a Difference?

By Ellen S. Gibson

My neighbor told me, “I don’t need to exercise. I get all the exercise I need working on the farm all day long.”

I agree that he gets plenty of physical activity in the course of a workday on the farm. But what would he say if I were to ask, “How do you feel at the end of the day? How do you feel in the morning when you get up? Can you move freely? Do your muscles ache?”

So then, what is the difference between exercise and physical activity?

Exercise gets the body prepared for the work it will do

Exercise is moving your body with intent. The goals are very specific: to increase strength, endurance, flexibility, range-of-motion, and balance.

Goat dairy farmers working in the barnWhen you engage in the physical activity of your farming day, your goals are completely different. It could be feeding and watering the animals, loading hay, cleaning out stalls, medicating your herd, shearing the sheep. It is accomplishing any of the work a farmer does during the day: lifting and carrying, climbing over fences and up into the seat of a tractor, shoveling, hauling, pushing, pulling.

The goal is to accomplish this work, every day, without injury or pain.

Moving with intent—exercise!—in the morning is especially good to limber up the back muscles, work out the creaky places, and get the blood flowing. This prepares the body for the physical activity of your day.

Take five minutes in the morning, set aside the day’s list of things to be done and concentrate on this:

  • Stand and flex the back muscles forward and back. Rotate your hips in circles in one direction and then the other.
  • Reach one arm up over your head and then the other. Make yourself taller. Alternate side to side.
  • Inhale and exhale, coordinating with your movement.
  • Apprise how you feel.

These stretches are deposits into your health savings account that you can draw from all day.

Once the workday begins, taking a pause every hour or so will keep adding to that savings account. Is your back tightening up? Are your shoulders aching? Do you need a drink of water? A handful of peanuts? Two minutes of stretching—just repeating the simple motion of reaching your arms up overhead one at a time—can make the next few hours much more tolerable. And by the way, during that break did you notice the lovely pattern of clouds in the sky?

Savings plus interest

Repeat the simple stretching exercises before going to bed to send a healing flow of blood to your muscles, to alleviate pain and sleep more soundly.

These are small changes, 5-minute changes. They add up. They add up to health. And health? Well, that’s where quality-of-life begins. And isn’t that at least part of the reason that you farm in the first place?