Irish farmers seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease

Almost half suffer high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, study finds

A recent study sound farmers in the midwest completed an average of 16,452 steps and 124 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, although mostly in bouts of less than 10 minutes. Photograph: David Silverman/Getty Images

A recent study sound farmers in the midwest completed an average of 16,452 steps and 124 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, although mostly in bouts of less than 10 minutes. Photograph: David Silverman/Getty Images

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They toil in the great outdoors from dawn to dusk but Irish farmers may not be reaping the health dividend many assume – new research finds them seven times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than other people.

Not only that, almost half are thought to suffer high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

The annual Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists conference on Friday will hear that while farmers may get plenty of physical exercise, it is often the wrong kind.

Current health advice is that 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, per week is sufficient to help stave off cardiovascular disease (CVD). Crucially though, it should be accumulated in sustained periods of more than 10 minutes.

Denise Dunne, chairwoman of the Chartered Physiotherapists in Cardiac Services (CPCS) organisation, said farmers really ought to exercise at a level that challenges the heart – making them out of breath, hot and sweaty.

In her recently published paper in the Journal of Agromedicine, Ms Dunne examined the activity and perceptions around exercise among farmers in the midwest. It found they completed an average of 16,452 steps and 124 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, although mostly in bouts of less than 10 minutes.

Nevertheless, the study found that farmers are fit overall with positive perceptions about exercise, and that they complete large quantities of physical activity, just not always in “a CVD-protective pattern”.

Frailty

The conference will also hear about frailty among older people in the community and concerns that a reduction in contact with GPs due to pandemic lockdown has meant minor issues have intensified into more serious problems and an increase in presentations to emergency departments.

The increasing numbers arriving for emergency treatment are also interpreted as a reflection of Ireland’s ageing population.

Chartered physiotherapist Susan O’Carroll will tell the conference that older people are now presenting to hospitals in “crisis or very unwell”. Many have changed routines over a sustained period of time, reduced daily exercise and interactions outside the home due to paused services or closed businesses.

“We need to encourage people to get back into their previous roles, pastimes and social groups,” she said ahead of the virtual event.

“Covid had greatly aged one of our patients in her late 70s because of the 18 months of reduced activity, not driving and with far fewer social interactions this has made her less resilient.”

A study by Ms O’Carroll and colleagues looked at the interaction of 1,380 adults aged over 75 who attended the emergency department at University Hospital Kerry during the first six months of 2019.

Just under a third (429 patients) were seen by the frailty intervention team of whom a little over half were women. Falls and respiratory conditions were the most common presenting complaints.

“The great thing is that frailty is dynamic, it’s modifiable,” said Ms O’Carroll. “We need more multidisciplinary teams in the community and in emergency departments in hospitals, which will speed up the time it takes to see people and give older adults access to specialist care which will improve outcomes.”