Staying healthy on the road
Over-the-road (OTR) truck drivers know how difficult it is to exercise, eat healthy and get enough sleep while they’re on the job. This situation is so common that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted a study and found that 69 percent of long-haul drivers are considered obese, compared to 31 percent of the national working population. By practicing better daily habits, the risk of common health issues can be avoided. Start a healthier lifestyle behind the wheel by using the tips below.
Common health issues truck drivers face
Truck drivers can face a number of problems due to their working conditions, but they’re most at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea. And while these issues should be addressed for health reasons, they can also negatively affect a carrier’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores because driver fitness is one of the seven categories on which the scores are based. If a driver has any medical conditions or severe fatigue that makes it unsafe for them to operate their truck, the carrier’s CSA score may increase and result in FMCSA involvement.
Five truck driver health tips
With a constantly changing schedule and route, it can be difficult for OTR drivers to find a diet and exercise plan that works and is easy to stick with. To make it easier, drivers can focus on simple strategies and techniques that help them maintain the healthiest lifestyle possible. Ideas include:
- Committing to a daily workout plan
Sparing just 15-30 minutes each day for exercise helps control weight, reduces the risk of high blood pressure and strengthens muscles. It’s best to start with basic exercises to get your body used to the change. Download a fitness app or watch videos online for simple workout ideas, or develop a personal plan with these easy exercises:
- Stretching. Before any strenuous exercises, relax and loosen your muscles by stretching. Focus on your arms, legs, neck, back, wrists and hands.
- Cardio. Cardio exercises engage and strengthen the abs and core. Easy cardio workouts include walking, running, jump roping, jumping jacks, squats, shadowboxing, crunches and pushups. You may even consider purchasing a folding bicycle — it’s a great workout for the entire body and folds simply for convenient storing in the truck cab.
- Weights. Five- to 10-pound dumbbells are small enough to store in the truck and heavy enough to speed up your heart rate and burn calories. Hold the weights while performing alternating bicep curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises, stationary lunges and toe raises.
- Making healthier food choices
While fast foods and sodas are typically the cheapest and most convenient options, they’re also some of the unhealthiest. Making wiser food and drink choices controls weight gain and blood sugar levels, boosts the immune system and improves sleep. Stock up on snacks and foods that are high in protein, low in sugar and contain fiber such as:
- Fruits and veggies
- Granola bars
- Nuts (almonds or walnuts are best)
- Hard boiled eggs
- Whole grain crackers with hummus
When eating out is the only option, try to order the healthiest choice on the menu. Fast food places usually offer grilled chicken wraps, sandwiches and salads, and sit-down restaurants normally have a specific section on their menus dedicated to lighter choices. And no matter what you decide to have, try to eat smaller portions, and quit when you’re full.
- Getting plenty of sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for health and safety reasons. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 27 percent of long-haul truckers sleep six or fewer hours at night, and 34 percent have nodded off while driving. When possible, try to sleep at the same time every day. Make it as comfortable as possible by using a blackout curtain or sleeping mask to block sunlight, a fan to stay cool and provide white noise, and anything else you need to rest deeply. Avoid watching TV or looking at devices before bed — these lights can stimulate your brain and make it harder to fall (and stay) asleep.
- Finding time to unwind and relax
Being away from home, driving in heavy traffic and delivering shipments on time are all stressful tasks you’ll deal with daily. Try finding ways to relieve stress such as reading a book, having quiet time, visiting with other drivers at truck stops, and staying in contact with friends and family members. Reducing stress levels will keep you happy and healthier.
- Protecting yourself from the sun
Did you know that truck windows don’t block UV rays like windshields do? And because OTR drivers spend a significant amount of time in the driver’s seat, they can be at an increased risk for skin damage caused by sun exposure. Prevent sunburns by applying sunscreen (especially on the left side of the body), and consider wearing long-sleeves or tinting the windows.
Use the advice below to learn how to live and maintain a healthy life as a trucker:
- Start slow. Don’t go all in at once — you’ll be more likely to give up. Instead, start by changing one thing at a time like your exercise routine or the types of food you eat.
- Don’t give up. Whatever changes you make, challenge yourself to stick to it for at least a month. By then it becomes a habit, making it more difficult to quit.
- Track progress. Hold yourself accountable by tracking your daily nutrition and workouts. Seeing the progress in writing makes you push yourself harder.
Share your tips
If you’re a truck driver who’s found a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, share your tips and secrets in the comments below.