Professional truck drivers didn’t start as “professionals.” From Day One of their truck driving training they had to learn that the truck is really an extension of the man or woman behind the wheel, and that what happens on their watch is their responsibility. Driver Vehicle Reports presume a vehicle inspection, and real pros can manage a list of hundreds of checkpoints: from the tractor to the trailer, the mirrors to the motor, the air brakes to the hazardous aerosol packed in their refrigerator box. Responsibility is rule one.
But truck drivers can lose focus. It’s too easy to worry about fuel consumption and on-time loads; speeds and vehicle response; load management and managing all the other drivers on the road. When it’s all done, a hot meal and a warm bed sound as good as the pay. So, who’s paying attention to DRIVERS?
In response to a CDC initiative to bring attention to risks specific to the lives of long-haul truckers, the Trans-System family wants to help you become as aware of what goes on with your body as you are with your truck.
It’s important to keep up on your health. But there’s more to “keeping up,” than making sure you refill your medications, keeping your medical card current, making sure eyewear and prescriptions are current.
Your truck will only make it so far. But a careful operator who acts as the eyes and ears of a careful maintenance team can add to the life of the vehicle. And the same is true with your body – being the eyes and ears for your medical team will keep you in the seat and out of the doctor’s office. So let’s look at that vehicle, the body, and talk Body Mechanics:
It’s not a tired metaphor. You are what you eat. Or, that is to say: “your body will perform to the level of the fuel you put in the tank.” But “healthy eating” seems impossibly hard with limited storage and few appliances in the on-the-job environment that truck drivers live in. Time and resources tend to prioritize roadside eating. And it isn’t that restaurant food is necessarily better; it’s just that the food’s warm, tasty, and ready when drivers are.
And then there’s the four-letter word: Diet. Low carb diets, low fat diets, low sugar diets – they all seem to say the same thing: “low taste diet, low satisfaction diet.” But a diet is really just a description of what you eat. A driver easily manages the fuel needs of his vehicle, so managing a diet shouldn’t be any more complicated.
Question: When a mechanic wants a truck to get more miles and run more efficiently, does he recommend less fuel?
We don’t get better miles by using less diesel. We get better miles by using better quality fuel, better additives. So don’t think that “fixing” a diet means not eating, or eating only celery and kale chips. Calories equate to fuel in the tank, so unless the motor is getting too much – running rich – the answer is to replace it with a higher quality fuel source, a higher octane so to speak.
How? Replace a candy bar – 150 to 200 empty calories – with two hard-boiled eggs – 170 protein rich calories – and some unsalted nuts. Any time you can swap processed sugars for useful fats, complex carbohydrates, fruits (it’s recommended to eat one piece of fruit with every meal if possible) or proteins, it’s an upgrade.
Tires and Suspension
It has been said that you can tell a state by its streets and highways. Sometimes the ride is rough, so it matters what shape your tires and shock absorbers are in. Just like bladders and reservoirs, the bottoms of feet can collapse under wear. A sedentary driving life can lead to weight gain and tender feet. Exercise is the best defense for both of these problems, but the next best thing is a comfortable set of wheels. High quality shoes and boots do a lot of work that is normally put on the plantar fascia, the little stretch of connective tissue that stretches between your heel and the ball of your foot.
A healthy plantar fascia is what gives the foot the appearance of an arch, and fallen arches are typically a sign that the plantar fascia has failed, or is failing.
Don’t skimp on shoes. Like a good set of tires, they’ll do more than get you down the road. They’ll contribute to the health and stability of the truck’s load, or in this case, the driver’s working feet. And in a profession that demands sudden starts and stops of activity, climbing into and out of refrigerators, onto and off of flat beds, that’s worth more than the price of steel-toe boots.
And while your lacing up those shoes, take a moment to squat. Seriously. A handful of deep knee bends or squats are where the knees and ankles get their circulation. That stiffness that precedes a neck roll or a shoulder stretch? That’s a lack of circulation. And sitting in similar positions every day for eleven hours begins to deprive the body of the every-day motion it craves. If it feels like neck, elbows, or wrists aren’t feeling as spry as they used to, it may be time for some callisthenic movement. And if you’re feeling frisky, consider some actual exercise!
The Center for Disease Control has found that Obesity and smoking were twice as prevalent in long-haul truck drivers as in the 2010 U.S. adult working population. Sixty-one percent reported having two or more of the risk factors: hypertension, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, no physical activity, 6 or fewer hours of sleep per 24-hour period.
There is literally no end to the changes, small and large, that a truck driver could make to improve the quality of their life on the road. But if the bite is too big, it may be hard to swallow. Just like in vehicle maintenance, tackle one project at a time. And take the time to learn how each change affects the body as a whole. Get healthy without losing quality of life. Food and comfort are gifts, so it doesn’t make sense to cast them off in a pursuit of “better health,” but better health should be a priority as well. So pick something, pick something this week and make one change. And after a week or so, on the next haul, say, try something else. In a year over the road, one change every two weeks is about 26 positive changes that will contribute to more miles driven, more miles walked, and a better life lived.
And remember: be responsible. When considering big changes, call a health care professional. They’re the maintenance team for your vehicle, the body. Keep yourself on the road as long as possible; you have people who care about you and a Trans-System team that wants to see you, healthy, back at the garage.