Recent findings show that Irish farmers are seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared with non-agricultural employees.

A study completed in Journal of Agromedicine found that farmers completed an average of 16,000 steps and 124 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a day.

Despite this, farmers are at major risk of CVD and almost 50% of Irish farmers have high blood pressure and elevated total cholesterol.

However, the volume of weekly MVPA was largely accumulated in bouts lasting less than 10 minutes, with only 18% completing bouts of greater than 10 minutes.


The study shows that the benefits of intense physical exercise includes an estimated 30% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Chair of the Chartered Physiotherapists in Cardiac Services (CPCS) Denise Dunne has said that this is often a difficult message to implement, but that “farmers require exercise to a level where they are challenging the heart a little by rising the heart rate; they may feel out of breath, a little hot and certainly sweaty”.

Dunne highlights the necessity to engage in bouts of exercise lasting more than 10 minutes in order to get the most efficient and effective training.

On the go

“This is difficult to understand, as farming is often considered to be a physically active occupation, farmers are always on the go and have ever-changing busy day-to-day lives.”

Dunne, a chartered physiotherapist, highlights that physical inactivity is the absence or lack of physical activity, and has said it is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.

“If we start to view the heart like a muscle rather than an organ, we can start to grasp the need to train the muscle to see effective and efficient change over time.

“Starting a new exercise programme is a behaviour change and farmers will require support and assistance, but small changes make a big difference,” she said.

Guidelines recommend a minimum of 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate exercise a week

Dunne says that the current Irish and European physical activity guidelines recommend a minimum of 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate exercise a week.

Alternatively, 1hr 15mins of vigorous physical activity a week will suffice, but both should be accumulated in bouts lasting for at least 10 minutes, she said.

Overall, the study highlighted that farmers are indeed fit and have positive perceptions about exercise, and complete large quantities of physical activity, but this may not be in a CVD-protective pattern.

Dunne said that CVD risk can be reduced in the farming community by encouraging farmers to sit less and engage in MVPA in bouts of more than 10 minutes, in line with current guidelines.