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