Staying Healthy On The Road

I was an all-night country music disk jockey for decades on a radio station in Fort Worth, and eventually moved to Sirius-XM Satellite Radio where I did a daily program for years. I picked up a huge listening audience from the trucking industry while hosting those programs. As a matter of fact, the media proclaimed my radio show as being a “trucker’s program.” I did have quite a following among the men and women behind the wheels of various rigs, and I felt honored to have them as that special group of listeners.

I accepted phone calls from my listening audience, most of them being truckers. When I was hosting the all-night radio show, the truckers would share their thoughts and opinions with me. Many of them would also share personal information with all of those who were dialed in to my show. Much of this information pertained to health issues. I soon discovered that those who discussed their health didn’t hesitate in going into full details while describing what was bothering them. For some reason, the ladies seemed more willing to discuss their very personal health issues than the men. I’ll never forget one lady said, “Bill, I feel more comfortable sharing my health thoughts with you than anyone else, including my doctor.  What I tell you will just be between you and me.”

I said, “Our telephone conversation is being heard on this radio show, ma’am!” She paused for a moment and then continued with, “I still feel like it’ll just be between you and me.”

The truckers have had more than a normal share of health problems for several reasons. There is very little exercise available for them, good food choices are limited, and proper rest is difficult to find. Driving is a physically demanding profession.

In a recent survey, it was revealed that almost 90 percent of long-haul drivers suffer from one or more health issues. Rated high in that category are smoking, hypertension and obesity, all putting them at risk for chronic diseases.

A special study found that 51 percent of truck drivers smoke, compared to 19 percent of all other workers in the United States.

Obesity has been a common health factor ever since trucking became a major industry. Here, again, lack of exercise and proper food selection are the main causes for the additional weight. Obesity is associated with such chronic conditions as diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea.

Fatigue is also a leading problem for drivers, affecting their health and safety. In addition to chronic diseases, high blood pressure, infections and diabetes, fatigue is responsible for increasing the appetite, overeating and obesity. It also causes drowsy driving, swerving and other risky driving practices. Of course, fatigue causes the same problems in automobiles. It all comes down to lack of sleep. This same study revealed that 27 percent of long-haul drivers averaged six hours of sleep or less per 24-hour period. It should be revealed here that those doing the survey found truck drivers to be very cooperative in divulging information that might ease the fatigue problem. One of those doing the survey said, “I’ve never met people more interested in highway safety than the truckers. We must remember that they are on the road almost 24 hours a day, while the average auto driver only faces the interstate or highway for the amount of time it takes to drive to and from their jobs or to the stores for shopping. All-in-all, most truckers place safety as a priority. I wish the average car drivers did the same.”

Striking a note of interest is the notation that most of the women drivers responding to the survey considered obesity to be the most threatening issue when it comes to health. One of the lady drivers, Lucille, said, “I smoke constantly when I’m driving and when I’m relaxing at home. My husband says I’m a chain-smoker, and I guess he’s right. However, I’d rather take my chances with cigarettes than become fat! When I temporarily stopped smoking, my appetite increased and I added the pounds! Yes, I’m sure cigarette smoking is dangerous to my health, but I’m not going to do anything that will increase my appetite and my weight!”

As for the men, lack of exercise seemed to rate the highest in importance in the survey of health issues. Being confined to the cab of the truck also caused some hypertension. A trucker named Ron said, “Before I became a truck driver, I took great pride in my golf game, swimming and other methods of getting plenty of exercise. I seldom worried about my health. Of course, I really enjoy my job driving a truck but I wish I could get more exercise. I’m overweight, as most drivers are, because I don’t move my fat body enough! I just sit there behind the wheel!”

Trucking companies are taking a closer look at programs that can boost the health of their drivers. These programs educate the drivers to make better food choices while on the road, encourage them to get at least 30 minutes of exercise when parked at a rest area or truck stop, and provide constructive ways to deal with stress.

Most encouraging is the fact that driver wellness programs and an expanding number of truck stop gyms are now helping truckers to make fitness a priority. Travel Centers of America (TA) and Pilot Travel Centers are adding new gyms to many of their locations. Other leading truck stops are also investing money in supplying gyms for the truckers. They are also attempting to make certain more healthy food is available for the drivers.

In this day and age, we have more wheels on the interstates than ever before, and that number will continue to grow.  Driving the rigs requires more patience and more solid dedication to the job. We must remember that the men and women who drive those rigs are needed now more than ever before. Here’s hoping every effort will be made by the truck stops and the entire trucking industry to help keep those special people healthy!