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Fitness on the farm.

Have you heard about the grandmother who was told by her doctor to walk ten mils a day and after three weeks her family didn't know where the heck she was? Well, you've heard about it now. But let's say the dear woman had had the smarts to walk five miles out and five back. What would she have accomplished? Productively, I mean.


This goes for the guy sweating on the treadmill who could just as well be treading grapes for grape juice. Or the would-be Schwarzeneggeers huffing on a rowing machine when they might better be trolling for bass. Or how about the muscle maniac who risks popping his bellybutton lifting weights when he could be lifting a sack of potatoes onto the wheelbarrow?

Which brings me to our 13 "achers" here at Freedom, Indiana. There's nothing like a little acherage for productive exercise. And some days I get so absorbed by it that the next thing I know my wife is patting my cheek and asking if I know what day it is.

The aerobic people have this exercise of bending down and straightening up--down and up, down and up--without picking up a doggone thing. Not me. When I bend down, it's for a purpose. Sometimes it's to pick up a boulder Dear Wife wants rearranged in one of her four rock gardens. One time it was to rearrange the 48 quarts of canned tomatoes on the bottom shelf in the root cellar that were clashing with the peaches and had to be exchanged with the plums on the top shelf. Or it may be any number of brainstorms equally beneficial to biceps expansion.

Aerobic experts wouldn't think of beginning their efforts in futility without first "warming up," then "cooling down" after having accomplished nothing. We men of the soil warm up and cool down without giving it a thought--especially if we are married to someone of the extreme opposite sex (to coin a phrase from Dave Barry). On winter mornings we usually warm up by bringing in an armload of wood for the kitchen stove so the room temperature will be tolerable when the one who scrapes the toast finally comes stumbling from her den. We cool down at the end of the day by slipping exhausted between sheets suspected of coming directly from the refrigerator crisper.

Aerobic practitioners practice a ritual they ahve cleverly labeled "Arm Circles." It consists of waving the arms in circles. Are they signaling? No. They are just standing there, waving their arms, and looking stupid. But when a farmer waves his arms he is likely turning old Betsy into the barn to exercise his fingers, unless he has a milking machine. Or he is shooing the hens out of the road so that the entree for the evening meal won't consist of Chicken Under Toyota. Or, as in a case with which I am more familiar, he could be trying to call attention to the fact that in repairing the board fence along the road, he has managed to get two boards nailed with his head caught between them.

A man with a spread even as small as 13 achers never "runs in place." He runs with a definite goal in mind. One of my healthiest runs of late had the goal of catching a riding mower that was going downhill unattended after I'd dismounted to pick up a tree limb in its path. And one of our neighbors recently got in quality running time by crossing the pasture lot wearing a red flannel shirt, unaware that a bull had jumped the fence to romance one of his cows.

Another excellent opportunity for "running for cause" is what we earth people refer to as "chasing those blasted pigs out of the garden again!" If the garden were lush with truffles, that would be one thing. But pigs interested only in uprooting everything verging on ripeness is quite another. There's nothing quite like chasing them all over heck's half-acre to tone up the old leg muscles--as well as the old vocal cords (unless children are present, of course). As for carrying weights to tone up the old arm muscles at the same time, what better than a length of two-by-four to brain one of the porcine rototillers if proximity permits?

The "Arm and Leg Lifter" is another formal exercise we people of the soil perform without dwelling upon it. Patching a leak in the roof above the kitchen, I have found, follows the formal formula to a T. There's the lifting of the legs when scaling the ladder. There's the lifting of one arm to grasp the ladder rungs while the other arm is hoisting a 50-pound tub of tar. Once I'm on the roof realizing the advantage of this opportunity, I usually go back down the ladder for a brush to apply the tar. I often go down a second time to got a hammer and chisel to open the confounded tub. And after finally spreading a coat of tar between me and the ladder, I tone up my chest and abdominal muscles by sliding down the antenna pole.

The experts' exercise for abdominal toning, of course, goes under the heading of "Abdominal Curl." This calls for the curlee to lie on his back and raise both knees to his chest. Which, as always, accomplishes nothing productive. But when I, for one, lie on my back and bring my knees to my chest, it's to curl my abdomen under the pipe in the furnace pit and then raise up to hit the restart button. The beauty of this is that I may be offered three times in a single night this opportunity to heave myself out of my abdominal curl position in bed to reap the more substantial reward of curling under the pipe.

I could go on. So--if you've got another minute--I will.

In getting exercise through heating the house, I'll take wood any old day. It's so hard to carry in an armload of fuel oil. But instead of getting that wood by means of a hard-to-start, noisy, smelly, polluting chain saw, there are still some of us who prefer the blessing of cutting our firewood--and being warmed by it twice--using a good old crosscut. And should a tree we fell happen to fool us by falling directly on the henhouse, there's the added advantage--if you'll forgive another personal incident--of chasing the survivors all over Abrell's 40-acre pasture field.

As for performing the "full body stretch," a man of the soil is presented numerous opportunities in his run-of-the-mill day. My favorite is having the stepladder slip when I'm cleaning the gutters. I once managed to hang from the gutter for a full five minutes--strengthening my vocal cords at the same time--before dropping to the ground and flexing both ankles and knees so thoroughly that I gave them the next three days off.

Giving credit where credit is overdue, gravity has been one of my most faithful allies in the building of my biceps. The day my dear wife usurped the ladder and I came sliding down the porch roof to find it missing did wonders for toughening up my fingernails, as well as arm and leg muscles. I can't say as much, however, for the forsythia bush where I landed. It didn't bloom for the next two seasons.

The distance one falls, however important, is exceeded in exercise value by how one lands. This plays an important part in determining whatr section of the body will be benefited. With constant practice at what springboard divers would call an aborted "one and a half with full twist"--which only recently I executed while pruning the apricot tree--I have what must be the most exercised tail section in all of Sweet Owen County.

Whether I will live forever, thanks to these many wonderful exercise opportunities, only time will tell. I just read of a study showing that from 30 to 40 percent of heart-disease deaths probably could have been prevented if the couch potatoes had only exercised.

Well--not to be hard-hearted--it's their own fault. They should have lived on a farm instead of a couch. Like me. If one day, through no fault of my own, I should happen to go, at least I'll go healthy.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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