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'Stretching' exercises for all people, particularly farmers


My 4-year-old granddaughter recently observed me putting on my socks with the aid of a plastic 10-inch-long, U-shaped half-tube with two cord handles attached to the upper end of the device. I stretched my sock from the bottom of the half-tube toward its top, then stuck my foot inside the device while pulling it upward. Pretty slick!

A few minutes later I watched my granddaughter pull on her socks while sitting on the kitchen floor. Several times she loudly uttered, “Ugh.” I smiled approvingly. I told her she was imitating me, and that grunting was part of the process of getting dressed.

She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. Hmm – was my precocious granddaughter teasing me?

I hadn’t realized that I grunt when dressing, although I admit I groan when my wife requires me to perform household chores. When I checked with Marilyn if I grunt or groan (big mistake, BTW), she affirmatively stated that I am noisy.

Somehow, despite all my noisiness, Marilyn and I have cohabitated for 46 years. She laughed when I told her that I’m teaching our grandchildren some essentials for life, which include grunting and groaning.

(The BTW acronym is familiar to me, by the way. My family can say there is hope for me, still.)

However, I won’t explain any more about the debilitating conditions that cause me to grunt and groan, except to report that I jumped off too many tractors, wagons and farm implements, instead of stepping down, and I lifted too many bales of hay and straw and shoveled too much grain. As to how my Santa Claus figure contributes to my physical demise, I won’t mention that, either.

A physical therapist told me I don’t undertake enough stretching exercises every morning. I used to stretch regularly when tossing bales and grain, hoeing beans and carrying out the assorted requirements of raising livestock and crops. My only counter-claim now is that every morning I stretch in bed upon awakening, albeit noisily. After dressing, I lean against a wall and stretch my leg and foot muscles, as directed by the physical therapist.

The needs for exercising physically, but not for stretching, are changing for many people involved in agriculture. It’s become common nowadays to see neighboring men and women walking briskly on rural roads for their exercise because machines perform many formerly onerous farm tasks.

Nonetheless, physical demands persist for many livestock producers, farm laborers who tend crops, machinery repairers and other agricultural workers. Some agricultural jobs also require repetitive movements that overuse certain muscles, bones and connective tissues – such as picking fruit.

Overall though, the physical requirements of agriculture are significantly less than during previous eras, except in developing nations where hand-labor is essential.

The stretching exercises that benefit everyone the most, including farmers, involve our minds. Cognitive stretching, and what can be called spiritual stretching, accompany physical stretching when reaching for our ultimate purposes in life. These forms of stretching are actually more difficult.

Cognitive and spiritual stretching entail clearing our minds of interfering thoughts, concentrating on analyzing prospective outcomes of concepts if they are carried through to their implementation and – perhaps most importantly – considering information that disagrees with our preferred views.

Keeping an open mind to dissenting information, discussing a range of thoughts with valued people who agree and disagree and searching for insights are highly beneficial before deciding on a course of action.

Reading informative literature and scientific articles usually are useful, but they are passive activities. Meditation, devoted thinking about issues and accurately writing down our creative ideas are active undertakings that require much discipline and hard work.

For me, creative intellectual and spiritual stretching don’t involve participating on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and most electronic media. While social media can serve many useful purposes, the messages on these forums too often don’t reflect careful thinking; it’s easy to make unintended mistakes.

I also haven’t carried a watch for years because I don’t want my time to be governed by a machine, but rather by my cognitions. I rely on the sun’s position or my growling stomach to indicate the time of day or season – just ask Marilyn.

Everyone is different. What works for me might not work for others.

Almost all research studies that have a bearing on the issues of physical, cognitive and spiritual stretching conclude that being able to choose our pursuits in life and feeling useful are more important for personal fulfillment than being financially well-off and “having it my way.”

Farming affords ideal opportunities to undertake cognitive and spiritual stretching, as well as physical exercise. Few other life pursuits allow for such rich combinations of experiences that enhance our physical well-being, our intellects and our spiritual adjustments while absorbing the benefits of outdoor living.


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. Readers may contact him at