I don’t know about you, but my online purchases have doubled, if not tripled, since the start of COVID-19. Although next-day delivery is the best thing since sliced bread, there are a lot of people behind the scenes that make that possible. One key person is the truck driver, who is responsible for delivering your package from the warehouse to your front door.
In 2019 there were an estimated 3.5 million truckers employed in the United States. At first, that number seemed large, but then I thought back to the cross-country road trips I’ve taken and was quickly reminded of all the truck drivers occupying the roads. These men and women responsible for delivering us our goods sit for long hours behind the wheel.
The health risks for truck drivers spending long periods on the road are surprising — but there are solutions.
Top Health Concerns of Truck Drivers
In more than half of long-haul truck drivers, top health concerns include:
- High blood pressure (truck drivers must have a blood pressure of 140/90 to work)
- Decreased physical activity
- High cholesterol
- Lack of sleep
Having one or multiple health concerns, like the ones listed above, can lead to a life with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer — all of which are preventable.
As a certified health coach who works with clients to come up with new habits that are realistic and sustainable, I want to offer some helpful tips and tricks these essential workers can use to not only increase their job safety and productivity but also ensure a longer and healthier life.
It’s no secret that truck drivers are on the go, so quick and convenient may be their motto when they are hungry. There are tons of fast food options and quick marts that are connected to gas stations. It would be very unusual to see a Whole Foods Market in the middle of Route 93. Believe it or not, there are healthy “quick and convenient” options at the quick marts.
Next time you want to grab a supersized fries or burger, both loaded with sodium that can cause high blood pressure, and before you grab a shake and a bag of candy, both high in sugar, which can cause type 2 diabetes, try one of these healthy snacks:
- Dry roasted nuts — These are high in healthy fats and protein.
- Single-serve fruit — It’s not unusual for convenience stores to have bananas or apples on display.
- Dark chocolate — Look for brands to have chocolate as the first ingredient rather than sugar
- Chips — Chips can be an acceptable snack, but avoid the ones that have ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, MSG, or artificial ingredients. Ideally choose ones that are organic or non-GMO.
- Yogurt — Look for full-fat options and ones that have no artificial sweeteners.
- Water — Soda is filled with sugar, so replace your carbonated sodas for a bottle of water. This will also help prevent a sugar crash while you are driving.
The Sedentary Lifestyle
Although there are rules in place that require truck drivers to take a break, the majority of their time while on the clock consists of driving or sitting in traffic. Both of those activities mean that there is little to no physical movement. There is a common phrase that sitting is the new smoking, so while on breaks, it’s important that truck drivers prioritize physical activity.
After hours on the road, the last thing anyone wants to do is get in a quick exercise, but there are some things that you can do that will help you wind down and decrease your chances for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. For example:
- Take a walk — This is important to maintain the circulation of blood and decrease the chances of blood clots forming.
- Aerobic exercise — Pilates, yoga, and stretching are great ways to either kick off a long drive or unwind from hours on the road. These three exercises don’t require a lot of space, so they are perfect movements to do during breaks.
- Weight training — After you make sure you secure a safe place for weights in the truck, you can bring weight out on your break and sneak in a couple of reps.
If sitting is the new smoking, a lifestyle that consists of both is one that may have you checking into your nearest hospital. It is not new information that smoking is bad for you. It causes high blood pressure, cancer, COPD, strokes, heart disease, lung disease, emphysema, and the list goes on.
Use Quitline for free coaching that takes place over the phone to help you stop smoking: 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Other tips and tricks you can use:
- Take deep breaths. — This will help decrease your stress and therefore will lessen your chance to grab a cigarette for quick relief.
- Have healthy snacks on deck when your cravings start to hit. — This will help with the oral fixation that may happen when quitting.
- Think of all the money you are saving. — A pack-a-day smoker can save up to $2,000 dollars a year by quitting.
- Know your triggers. — Take note of when those triggers appear, so you are better prepared the next time they may sneak up on you. And they will sneak up on you.
- Stay positive. — Slipping up doesn’t mean you have failed. Every day is a new start and creates new opportunities that you can put your best foot forward. We all just have to try our best each and every day.
Nothing is better than a great night of sleep. However, truckers aren’t getting nearly enough of the sleep they need to ensure that they are working at their highest capability. Most of them are averaging 5.18 hours when the average adult should be getting 7–8 hours of sound sleep each night. Even when truckers do get a chance to get some shut-eye, it usually is interrupted by the sounds of traffic.
Inadequate sleep can cause a handful of chronic diseases, like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, strokes, and high blood pressure. While some truckers decide to pull off the highway and stay in some sort of lodging, others choose to sleep in their cab at a truck stop. To help truckers get better sleep than what they are currently getting, they can follow some of these tips:
- Follow a nighttime routine even when on the road. — It will help you wind down and differentiate the working hours from non-working hours. This can include drinking some hot decaffeinated tea.
- Comfort is key! — If you are sleeping in your cab, make sure you are making it as comfortable as possible. Use a mattress pad, spray essential oils on either your pillow or in the air, make sure you are changing out of the clothes you are driving in, and use a light-blocking sleep mask.
- Get yourself a pair of earplugs. — This will help tune out some of the traffic noise.
- Play light music in the background. — The right music can help you drift into a great night’s sleep.
A career as a truck driver takes quite a toll on the body. Long hours, poor sleeping conditions, and limited access to healthy foods can all help pave a path to some serious health conditions. By implementing some of these tips and tricks, you can be one step closer to being healthier, safer, and more well-rested on the road.