Truck Driver Health and Wellness: Not Easy, but Necessary

Driver health is a major problem for fleet managers and companies as a whole because drivers who are unhealthy are more likely to lose their Medical Examiner’s Certificate (which, in turn, would cause them to lose their CDLs). They are also more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents, have heart attacks or other medical emergencies on the job, or suffer injuries that would require them to leave the job and go on disability.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a branch of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), conducted a survey that found that 70% of long-haul truckers are obese and more than 50% are smokers. It also found that truckers are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, and many of them have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Many truckers also tend to engage in little physical activity and get less than six hours of sleep. These unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors can easily result in preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, and stroke, and they can even lead to loss of eyesight or extremities.

To prevent health-related high turnover rates and to keep truck drivers healthy, we’ve compiled a list of things fleet managers can do to help promote good health among drivers. In addition, we have put together some tips for drivers on how to stay healthy on the road.

What can Fleet Managers Do to Promote Good Driver Health?

Over the past few years, fleet managers have become more involved in the health of their drivers. While getting in shape is a decidedly personal choice, many fleet managers and companies are putting wellness programs in place on the company level to create a culture that promotes truck driver health and wellness. For example, in 2007, Melton Truck Lines in Tulsa, Oklahoma, began their “Culture of Wellness” campaign–they hired a trained and certified wellness manager and replaced their indoor smoking lounge with an employee gym. Now they offer a variety of exercise classes, a café with healthy food and drink choices, and an on-site medical clinic. The company also offers employee discounts and monetary bonuses for participating in programs and scoring well on positive health indicator screenings. As a result, drivers identified with having three medical risk factors or more dropped from 51% to 38% within a year, and those with no risk factors, originally only 13%, increased to 17%.

If you’re going to try to implement a wellness program in your company, here are a few things you may want to do when you get started.

  • Ask drivers about the kind of health information and classes they want
  • Offer exercise programs that will fit their schedules
  • Create a cooperative system
  • Encourage preventive healthcare
  • Reward drivers for quitting smoking and other damaging behaviors
  • Set an example by making sure executives participate, too.

Fleet managers don’t have to start from scratch in creating wellness programs for promoting good health among their drivers. Companies such as Rolling Strong and Healthy Fleet help fleet managers incorporate a wellness program into their corporate culture and environment. Fleet managers can certainly help, but they can’t force drivers to make a change.

What Can Truck Drivers do to Stay Healthy on the Road?

Drivers, you have a lot of power over your wellness and health. Eating healthier is definitely a major step in taking control of your health. Start by moderating how many sugary drinks (like sodas, sweetened coffees, and energy drinks) and simple sugars (like white bread and white rice) you consume and replace them with water and more complex carbohydrates (like whole wheat bread and brown rice). Eating more fiber, fruits, and vegetables will help, too, as they tend to be more filling and have fewer calories (plus important nutrients your body needs).

Avoid processed meats and fatty foods (such as bacon and French fries) as much as possible, particularly those with saturated and trans-fats. Unsaturated fats, like those found in fish and avocados, are actually good, but these should only make up a small portion of your diet. Meal control is also very helpful; balance your portions of meat, vegetables, fruits, and starches appropriately as shown on DrivingHealthy.org. By doing this, you can start reducing your risk for (or the impact of) serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and hypertension.

What You Shouldn’t Eat Eat This Instead
Cheeseburger Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Soda/Energy Drinks Water
Meatball Sub Turkey Sub
Apple Pie Apple Slices with Cinnamon
French Fries Fruit or Side Salad
Caramel Frappuccino® Black Coffee

 

Diet alone isn’t going to be enough to keep you in excellent health, though. If you smoke or drink heavily, quitting will reduce your health risk factors significantly. Staying up-to-date on preventive health care (including vaccinations), drinking plenty of water, spending time with loved ones, and reducing stress will all help improve your overall health and wellness.

Stay Healthy on the Road with Exercise

After driving for hours and hours, the last thing you probably want to do is exercise, but it is essential to your health. Some think it’s impossible to set up a workout routine while on the road, but that’s not the case. There are plenty who have figured out ways to work out and stay healthy on the road. Thirty-two laps around a tractor trailer is a mile, but some prefer other ways of working out while on a haul. Some keep a fold-up bicycle in their trucks, some power walk around a truck stop, some lift coolers, and some have even turned their trucks into makeshift gyms.

Some people need a little extra structure for their workout and diet programs, which is completely understandable. There are options, however, for “gyms without the gym” where you can stream fitness class videos to any internet-connected device. Programs like Booya Fitness, Daily Burn, and FitnessGlo offer inexpensive libraries of fitness classes that you can do anywhere with just bodyweight, along with exercises that only require a yoga mat or hand weights. Lindora Clinic offers a diet program designed especially for truckers. Driving Healthy also has a variety of resources for truck driver health and wellness.

Stay Healthy On the Road

Through a team effort between fleet managers and truck drivers, truck driver health issues can be drastically reduced and health and wellness can be improved. It won’t be easy to change the culture of an industry, but it is possible if, like with any wellness program, the participants keep at it. Neither drivers nor fleet managers can give up on the program if they want to be successful in boosting truck driver health and wellness. Start small, if needed, and work up to the complete lifestyle and culture changes necessary to promote good health. It is possible for truck drivers to get healthy; all it takes is the same perseverance that they have on the long haul.