For many professional drivers, sitting all day can create a range of health issues. Fortunately, there are several ways drivers can improve their health and minimize their risk of developing serious illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Helping truck drivers get healthier can also improve safety on our highways.

There are some general tips for drivers on the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website, and Insights sat down with Kevin A. Vrablik, MD, MPH, a board-certified occupational medicine physician with Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a FMCSA-certified commercial driver medical examiner, who shared five ways drivers can boost their overall health.

1

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Driving is a sedentary job. By virtue of that type of work, professional drivers are not expending a lot of energy. Losing weight requires folks to expend more calories than they take in, and there are simple things they can do to add some energy expenditure to their day.

Some drivers are able to get out when their load is being taken out of their trailer or they can try to make a short amount of time for exercise when they have to stop and fuel. Even something as simple as walking three times around the trailer can be helpful. There are drivers who are actually crafting entire workout routines that they can do during stops.

2

Make better food choices.

Drivers are pressed for time. They have to make their deliveries on time and can only drive a certain number of hours a day. A lot of times that forces people to pick quick, cheap, unhealthy food for energy.

Fortunately, more and more restaurants have some healthier options on the menu. Drivers can also pack their own lunches from home and store food in their refrigerator in the truck. Instead of a candy bar they can have carrots and some ranch or blue cheese dressing, or have peanut butter crackers or apples with peanut butter instead of a bag of chips. Fleet owners can help their drivers by educating them about what is healthy or unhealthy and how to make the right choices.

3

Stretch regularly.

Sitting for a really long time in one position and being bounced around in a seat that may not have a really good pneumatic shock-absorbing device may pose a risk for back injuries or pain. It could also aggravate underlying problems a driver may have.

Getting up and doing some exercises every so often will help keep the back in better shape. There are also some simple back stretches or exercises drivers can do when they are taking a break or when they are done for the day (see box below).

4

Get tested for sleep apnea.

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by FMCSA and the American Transportation Research Institute found that almost one-third of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea—a breathingrelated sleep disorder that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep due to the airway collapsing at night, resulting in poor sleep and daytime drowsiness. Sleep apnea is mostly related to weight, but there are people of normal weight who have sleep apnea.

Drivers should be vigilant in watching for symptoms, which include loud snoring, morning headaches and nausea, gasping while sleeping and excessive daytime sleepiness. Drivers can undergo a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. If they are diagnosed, they wear a mask during sleep that keeps the airway open. A drowsy driver is a dangerous driver.

5

Avoid excess sun exposure.

If drivers consistently drive with their window down or rest their arm on the door with an open window, they could be exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays. Wearing sunscreen and long sleeves can minimize sun exposure. So will rolling up the window as the window's glass will filter out UV rays.

Four Basic Exercises for Good Back Care

The following exercises are helpful for many people. They can be done every day in the order listed below.

Note: Everyone's body is different. Don't do any exercise that causes pain or gets more difficult to do over time. If the exercise relieves pain or gets easier after a few repetitions, keep doing it.

If you are under medical care for a back problem or if you have back pain, be careful. Ask your health-care provider before you try these exercises.

The Pelvic Tilt

The pelvic tilt exercise helps strengthen your stomach, buttocks, and thigh muscles as well as stretching the lower back muscles. This exercise flattens the back and then let the back return to its natural curve.

  1. Lie flat on your back on a hard surface with head resting on a small pillow.
  2. Bend knees and hips so both feet are flat on the hard surface.
  3. Push lower back flat to the floor. Make sure your back is flat by trying to place your hand between your back and the hard surface. When done correctly, your hand shouldn't fit.
  4. Tighten your "stomach" (abdominal) muscles.
  5. Tighten your "buttock" (gluteal) muscles.
  6. Lift your hips from the floor and tilt your whole pelvis forward while keeping your back flat against the hard surface.
  7. Hold for a count of ten.
  8. Slowly relax.
  9. Repeat this exercise ten times. The best way to do this exercise is on the floor. You can also do it against a wall.

Once you are familiar with the "feel" of the pelvic tilt, you can do this exercise in any position and you can practice at work or at home. The pelvic tilt can be done standing up against a wall or while you are standing in line, waiting at a red light, or wherever you can focus on your back for a few minutes.

Lumbar Stretches

When lumbar muscles are tight, they become shortened and interfere with bending, twisting, and pelvic rotating. Keeping these muscles stretched also helps keep the natural curves of the spine in shape.

  1. Lie flat on your back on a floor or hard surface with your head on a small pillow.
  2. Bend your knees and slowly bring them toward your chest. Reach your hand behind your thigh to help bend the knees. (Note: pulling from the top of the knee isn't good for the knees.) Don't bounce.
  3. Keep your head on the pillow and elevate your butt as high as possible off the floor. Your knees should be as close as possible to your chest.
  4. Hold this position for a count of 10. Relax, but continue to hold onto your thighs.
  5. Again, pull knees as close to your chest as possible. Do this exercise 10 times.

Hamstring Stretches

When hamstring muscles are shortened or tight they interfere with bending. You can stretch them by doing the following exercise. Begin by lying on a hard surface.

  1. With your knees close to the chest but in a relaxed position, slowly extend one leg toward the ceiling.
  2. Flex your foot and push your heel upward to feel the hamstring muscles stretch. Count to 10 while holding this position.
  3. Now bend this leg and bring the knee back toward your chest, while extending the other leg. Repeat Step 2 with the other leg.
  4. Repeat this exercise 10 times, one leg at a time.
  5. When you are done, bring both knees toward your chest and roll to the side as a safe way of returning to a standing position.

Reverse Situps

Many people have weak abdominal ("stomach") muscles and tend to arch their backs while doing situps. That's why we recommend "reverse" situps to strengthen the three groups of muscles that make the abdomen strong.

  1. Sit on the floor in an upright position with knees bent.
  2. Lock hands together behind your head and hold your arms out to your side.
  3. Tighten your stomach muscles and slowly lean back about 15 degrees, which is like going from 12 noon to 11 o'clock on a timepiece. Hold this position for a count of 5, and 10 if you can.
  4. Slowly lean back to the 10 o'clock position. Hold and count again.
  5. Return slowly to an upright position.
  6. Repeat the whole exercise.

For more ideas for simple exercises and stretches visit: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/multimedia/back-pain/sls-20076265.

April 2015