Health and Wellbeing

Pigs, ploughs and pilates!

Stretches during the workforce pilates class

Posted on: 16 May 2019

Ask farmers what they enjoy doing in their spare time, and there won’t be many who answer pilates!

But thanks to one of Devon County Council’s new tenant farmers, that’s exactly what’s proving popular in a little corner of Devon.

Sarah Mortimore and her family recently moved to Devon County Council’s Moorhouse Farm, a 100-acre livestock starter farm near Bovey Tracey on the edge of Dartmoor National Park.

An NHS physiotherapist by day, Sarah was keen to use her skills to help farmers, and others with similarly demanding jobs, keep fit and stay well physically and mentally, so she set up ‘Workforce Pilates’.

Pilates teacher Sarah helping a member of her classShe says: “Farming requires plenty of physical activity so it’s crucial to remain in good shape. The days are long, and the work load extensive, with heavy lifting and long periods operating machinery.

“These pressures mean many farmers suffer injury or long-lasting pain from back issues, stiff shoulders and poor joint mobility.

“Pilates is a great way to help as it uses your own body weight to increase strength, so you don’t need any specific equipment and the exercises can be easily adapted for all age ranges and abilities. The youngest in our group is in his late twenties, and there are a few who are nearly 70, but they all benefit because they work at their own level.

“The group is just for men, so they feel more comfortable and can just come and explore how their body moves, the different ways they can benefit from this sort of exercise and do as much or as little as they want.

“I’ve also designed the classes so they can use some of the practices and skills they learn here in their everyday life on the farm and hopefully make work a little more comfortable for them.”

In the UK around one agricultural worker a week takes their own life, according to a BBC analysis of figures from the Office of National Statistics.

With stress and poor mental health among the top challenges facing farmers, Sarah’s pilates classes are about more than just improving physical fitness, they offer real mental health benefits too.

Stretching in workforce pilatesShe explains: “Farming is an all-consuming, high pressure job with little time to switch off and relax.

“It’s lovely living and working in the beautiful Devon countryside, but it can often be lonely and isolating as farmers spend long hours working alone, with little human contact.

“So, it’s understandable that mental health can be a real issue, but as most farmers are men, it’s not one they find easy to talk about.

“Getting off the farm, even for just an hour in the evening once a week to meet with friends and some gentle exercise is a great way to boost your mood and get the emotional support you need, so the social side of this group is really important. And because it’s just for men they feel it’s a safe environment and are more confident to chat and share their experiences.”

Workforce pilates group

Lloyd is an arable, beef and vegetable farmer in Ashburton. He says:

“Sarah’s class is excellent. It gets you away from the farm for an evening, its social and I feel healthier.

squat stretches at workforce pilates class“I had a hernia operation a few years ago and pilates has really strengthened my abdominal area, and I feel a lot better for it. It’s not your classic gym fitness, but you work hard, and my core strength has definitely improved. You might ache a bit the next day, but you also feel stronger and healthier too.

“I would never have thought of going to a pilates class, and certainly wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t with my farming friends, who I’ve known for years.

“We encourage each other to come along and then sometimes go for a drink afterwards and have a chat, which is nice. I would recommend it.”

The group started in January and has since evolved to include a mix of people with different jobs and different demands on their bodies, such as butchers and mechanics.

lying down doing core work in workforce pilates classIan is a self-employed motor mechanic. He says:

“I’ve had back problems for years, with a prolapsed disc when I was 19 and then a couple of years ago had a nasty accident and actually broke my back. My doctor suggested I do pilates to regain my core strength and after just one class I found my flexibility improving. I’m often stiff when I arrive and by the time I leave I’m feeling much better.

“It might seem a bit odd and people sometimes take the micky because they think pilates is just for women, but I think it’s great. It’s a brilliant class and a nice group of men from all walks of life, and they’re all good fun.

“Most of us work on our own all week, so it’s nice to come to something like this and have a bit of social interaction with other people.”

With a growing waiting list, Sarah plans to expand the classes, once she’s settled in to life on the County Farms Estate, so more people can benefit.

If you want to find out more about stay healthy and well, visit the One Small Step website. 

To find pilates classes near you, visit Pinpoint Devon. 

1 comment on “Pigs, ploughs and pilates!

  1. Kate Lyons-miller says:

    Rats, I’m female… Am looking for a Pilates class in the Bovey/ Widecombe area, in the evening….
    Be very grateful for any suggestions
    Many thanks

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