When you live in a natural gym, working out may be fun. If you can imagine that. Photo by Joseph King/Flickr. Used under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

Dear readers, do you want to get in shape? Do you want to be fit and trim? Do you gentlemen want arms of steel and you ladies that curve that turns all the cowboys’ heads? Good news! You couldn’t live in a better place than rural America.

Let me explain. Some parts of modern rural life can be frustrating. We all know there can be difficulty getting medical care due to the lack of doctors and hospitals, further complicated by distance and weather. In addition, we all know that internet connectivity is a real problem in an era when we, and especially our kids in school, are expected to use the web.

If, however, there’s one thing we needn’t worry about, it’s access to gyms. We live in God’s great big workout facility. Oh sure, most of our small towns have nice little gyms, but if you don’t have the money, if it’s hard to go because of work or the kids, or if you just don’t like the whole gym scene, there are options all around.

I thought about this once when I was gently lecturing a patient about getting in shape. He told me how he couldn’t get to a gym, etc., blah, blah, blah. But he lived on about 20 acres next to a state forest.

“Do you shoot a bow?” I asked. “Sure,” he nodded.

“Well why don’t you put up a bunch of targets on the trail, walk it and shoot. That’s exercise.”

He thought about that and his wife agreed that it would be easy enough to do. And maybe even fun! Suddenly, exercise seemed more interesting. And it can be if we just open our eyes and look around.

My kids and I have used the yard and woods for plenty of exercise. We’ve played Airsoft and paintball. We’ve hit each other with plastic swords, carrying wooden shields (made easily from table-top blanks found at Lowe’s). We played arrow tag by taping practice golf-balls over target arrows. (Tip: When your kids are drawing 45-55 lbs., it hurts a lot more.)

We’ve hiked and played hide-and-seek, gone sledding and chased dogs in the yard. My wife and I, as well as our offspring, spent many a leisurely summer evening biking on the back-roads near our house. While you still have to be careful (and wear helmets, please), the traffic isn’t anything like what you find on urban and suburban highways.

Like the water? Kayak on river or lake. My wife just bought a paddle board and can’t wait for summer to try it out on the lake a few miles from our house.

Mow the lawn, seal the deck, and swim in the river. Hang a punching bag from a tree limb. Do pull-ups on a tree limb. Climb a tree!

What else? Cut the brush in the yard and build a bon-fire. Walk and sprint on a forest-service trail. Do push-ups against fallen logs. Pick up rocks in the river and throw them (not at each other, kids). Hunt, fish, walk, run, search for treasure, pan for gold. Crouching is good for your flexibility!

For many of you, farm life is workout every single day. Painting, sawing, hammering, repairing fences, digging holes, pulling calves, shoeing horses, feeding all of the livestock, cleaning out the barns. You come home and pass out because you used your body the way it was meant to be used: vigorously and well. I suspect your sleep is rarely troubled.

It’s why our ancestors not so long ago, like my great-grandfather, Friend, had steak and eggs for breakfast every day and lived long lives. They had neither the money nor the time necessary to get fat and lazy.

I tell you this because I want everybody to get moving and get in shape. I see way too many people in my hospital (and other rural sites where I have worked) who move too little, eat too much and suffer the consequences of what’s called “deconditioning.” They have no cardiovascular fitness and they have too little muscle to keep their balance, protect their joints or engage in meaningful, pleasant activity. They get what my former partner Dr. Chiles called “biscuit poisoning.” Or they experience what I have come to think of as “death by recliner.” And really, I worry that many of them couldn’t save themselves from a burning building, much less anybody else.

Despite all of the wonders of modern medicine, if everyone would lose weight, stop smoking, stop abusing alcohol and exercise vigorously, lots and lots of doctors, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers would be making a lot less money.

So be thankful! In cities the world over, people who want to be fit have to trudge to crowded gyms where they park themselves on stationary bikes or treadmills, looking at video footage of beautiful places to inspire them, places right down the road from your house. Or they bike, run or walk in parks where bows, arrows, firearms and free-range dogs are decidedly not welcome.

All you have to do, my brothers and sisters, is decide to do it, get off the dang couch, put down the phone use the gifts God put all around you.

Now hit the gym!

Edwin Leap, M.D., is medical director of the emergency department in a small North Georgia hospital. He lives in a log home in a remote part of Upstate South Carolina. Originally from West Virginia, Dr. Leap is married and has four children. Follow him on Twitter @edwinleap.

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