Busy farms require busy minds and bodies. With the responsibility and workload of managing a farm, comes the potential for health issues. Among these is an increased risk of heart disease. A study published in 20201 found that 74% of male famers in Ireland had at least four risk factors for heart disease. Given that 73% of all farmers are male2, this level of risk could have a serious impact on several areas of the industry.

Firstly, individual farmers and their families could be impacted heavily if these risk factors are not taken seriously and lead to a more significant issue.

Time lost to emergency medical issues and follow up appointments could have several negative impacts – lost income from fewer working hours and lower yield from the farm, and the costs of associated medical bills. A long term reduced ability (or inability) to work could lead to more serious consequences for the wider family and sustainability of the farm.

Deaths related to heart disease are common in Ireland, with over 9,600 Irish deaths3 in 2022 attributed to diseases of the heart and arteries. If we consider this in the wider context of our ageing population and the farming industry specifically, there could be a significant impact on our food and agriculture supply in the years ahead if even a small percentage of farmers with risk factors for heart disease become unable to work or lose their lives from an associated cardiac event.

Although this prospect is worrying, there are practical steps everyone can take to improve their heart health and avoid these situations from ever occurring. To make the correct choices about your heart health, it is helpful to understand the risk factors that you may face and then understand the positive steps you can take to minimise your risk.

Risk Factors

Farm work is arduous, and it can take a toll on your body.

Physical activity/load

There are a few things to consider about physical activity related to farm activity. The job is physical by nature, which means many farmers are engaging in exercise just by walking, lifting, and constant movement; this is positive because exercise is good for heart health. Nevertheless, it is important to know when to draw the line.

Farm work is arduous, and it can take a toll on your body if you are not in tune with what your body is, and is not, capable of. In 20204, almost one in three farm holders were aged 65 or over, compared to one in five just 30 years ago. Initial results from the 2022 Census5 also found that the number of people working in agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors fell by 8%. Fewer people working in farming means there is potentially a higher physical load on the remaining farming population. This increased physical burden could have a significant impact on their heart health if they have one or more risk factors.


Given the nature of the job and the long hours it requires, maintaining a balanced diet can be challenging. Convenience food that is quick to prepare and easy to access may be a go-to for many farmers during limited break periods. It is important to understand that approaching diet like this will have long-term effects on your overall health, including on your heart.

A 2021 survey6 found that a high number of male farmers were consuming foods which are likely having a negative impact on their health. These include fried foods, excess salt, sugary snacks, and meats. It also noted that there was low consumption of foods that could be beneficial for overall health including fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and some dairy products. The 2020 study also had comparable results, with 79% of farmers reporting that they were not eating their five-a-day.

Foods which contain elevated levels of saturated fat are harmful as they can cause an increase in cholesterol in the blood, which can lead to heart problems or stroke. Not all fats are bad, though. Some are beneficial for your overall health. Incorporating foods like oily fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados into your diet will give your body all the important fats that it needs.


A poor diet will lead to the accumulation of harmful fats in a person’s body, and this can play havoc with how a person’s organs, including their heart, functions.

Numerous studies have found that fat around the belly (visceral fat) is a significant risk factor leading to a first heart attack. Research published in 20207 also shows that those who survive a first heart attack, but still carry excess fat around their abdomen, are at a higher risk of another heart attack. This is something that Irish farmers should be aware of, as 62% of farmers who participated in the 2021 survey related to diet were found to be overweight or obese.

Extra vigilance is recommended for people who are overweight and have other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other health issues such as diabetes.


Nobody would argue that farming can be a stressful job. A challenging economic landscape and the prospect of environment-related changes are just some of stress factors faced by farmers. A 2023 survey found8 that almost 40% of farmers said their business was a source of stress and that the stress they feel is getting worse over time. The main sources of stress for these farmers were weather challenges, excessive workload, and financial concerns.

There are links between stress and heart conditions which can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

More indirectly, people who are experiencing long-term stress are more likely to make lifestyle choices which are known to have a negative impact on their heart health. These can include:

  • Smoking.
  • Excessive food consumption.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • The links between these behaviours and heart disease or other heart health issues are concrete and undisputed.

    What to do if you are concerned about heart health

    Taking proactive steps to protect your heart health will have many benefits. It is important to note that while the prevalence of heart disease and risk factors among farmers and the wider population may be higher in those who are older, doing what you can to care for your heart at the earliest opportunity is one of the best possible prevention tools.

    From age 40 onwards (or earlier if you have known risk factors), get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly and know your numbers – your GP or pharmacist can support you with this. If you are experiencing symptoms such as chest aches or pains, shortness of breath, a persistent cough, swelling in your legs, ankles or feet, or increased fatigue, you should talk to your GP. After an initial assessment, if there are indicators that you need to further address your symptoms, your GP can refer you to a cardiac specialist. These specialists will have access to the latest tests and scans to diagnose and treat you, as and when necessary.

    At any stage of your life, you can access a cardiac screening service which will give you a reference point about your heart health. These screenings include blood tests, a blood pressure check, and an ECG to check the rhythm and electrical activity in your heart, and other tests where necessary. Screening will also identify your specific risk factors, taking into account previous family history, your medical history, lifestyle, diet, exercise and more. Once equipped with this information, you will have informed and individualised advice about the next steps needed to improve your heart health.

    In situations where these symptoms are more sudden in nature, visit your nearest urgent cardiac care facility or emergency department, where specialists will treat your symptoms immediately. You can contact Mater Private Network’s Urgent Cardiac Care service in Dublin, 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1800 247 999, or in Cork Monday to Friday from 9pm to 5pm on 021 601 3333.

    Mater Private Network offers expert cardiac care services in Dublin, Cork, Drogheda, Navan, Mullingar, and Cavan. For more information visit materprivate.ie

    1 Farmers at high risk of heart disease and stroke, The Irish Heart Foundation, Teagasc, the National Centre for Men’s Health (NCMH) at IT Carlow, Glanbia Ireland, the HSE and UCD College of Health and Agricultural Sciences

    2 Press Statement Census of Agriculture 2020 - Detailed Results, Central Statistics Office

    3 Vital Statistics Yearly Summary 2022, Central Statistics Office

    4 Press Statement Census of Agriculture 2020 - Detailed Results, Central Statistics Office

    5 Census of Population 2022 - Summary Results

    6 Male Farmer Diets associated with Poor Health, Teagasc

    7 Belly fat linked with repeat heart attacks, European Society of Cardiology

    8 Weather, workload and money: the issues stressing Irish farmers, National Farm Survey, Teagasc