Easy tips for better mental and physical health from a former over-the-road trucker.
The life of a long haul trucker is tough - being on the road 25+ days a month, away from family, home, and friends. Sleeping in parking lots, navigating through COVID-19 hotspots, and dealing with everything from protestors to safety inspections. These are the lives of the men and women who play a pivotal role is providing the world with our clothing, food, homes, and even the device you are reading this article on.
“the toughest part for me as a driver is isolating when I come home. My wife works with expectant mothers, babies, and the elderly. So we had to take COVID very seriously. I know people say truckers are exempt, but that is only while they’re working. If you’re on days off you must self isolate.” - Wayne, Truck Driver
This tough lifestyle makes mental and physical health important - even more so than it is in most 9-5 office jobs. Everyone has good days and bad ones - for truck drivers, the fact of the matter is that there are usually a few more bad days than good. When COVID first hit they were treated as heroes. They kept the country running even when the unknown was upon us. It didn’t take very long for the public to turn their backs on drivers, and treat them as lesser citizens.
“My Gf and I have a newborn, and with this job taking me all over Canada and the US, even when I am home I still have to sleep in my truck in the yard. I am missing my daughter growing up and my family” - Andrew, Truck Driver
This just adds to the existing truth that trucking posses several real risk factors when it comes to mental and physical health. The long driving shifts, disrupted and irregular sleep, social isolation, and delivery anxiety directly contribute to health issues like sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, and other psychological problems.
No list of tips is going to single handedly fix all of these issues, but one of the best ways to start is to build healthy habits around a trucking lifestyle. It isn't easy - just look at the types of meal options we're given at truckstops:
It's not surprising that when we're forced to eat fast food all the time, healthy living starts to go out the door. That's why the first (and easiest) step towards living a healthier trucking lifestyle is to fix your diet. You don't have to go cold turkey either - it's all about gradual improvement. Try some of these tips - maybe once a week at first, and building into it.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, for anyone whether you’re a professional truck driver or not. According to a study done by consumer reports, people who eat breakfast regularly tend to have better diets overall, consuming more fruit, vegetables, milk, and whole grains. Eating breakfast increases your blood sugar which gives you the energy to start your day. It also prolongs your need to eat lunch and keeps you moving throughout the day, which is important for truck drivers taking long trips.
Some healthy and simple breakfast ideas for truck drivers include oatmeal, fresh fruit, protein bars, or a mixture of different breakfast foods. Some drivers suggest eating a larger breakfast, and then smaller portions (healthier snacks) throughout the rest of the day to stay healthy while avoiding hunger.
Snacking on healthy foods throughout the day will help you cut down on meal portions. Healthier snack foods that truckers can take on the road with them include:
Eating leafy greens two times per day will increase your focus on the road. Leafy greens are a good source of Vitamin K which prevents certain age-related conditions. They also help lower cholesterol and preserve your vision.
Not drinking enough water can affect a driver’s alertness on the road. Drivers should be drinking at least 64 ounces of water per day to ensure their bodies are functioning to their full potential. I would always bring 2-3 cases of bottled water with me on each trip, and replenish if needed
Coffee may help drivers stay awake, but consuming too much caffeine isn’t good for anyone. Following all of these other steps while getting an adequate amount of sleep should reduce the need for a lot of coffee. However, two cups of coffee per day is acceptable for drivers to take in. Hard to do as Caffeine and Nicotine are a Trucker Staple
This is something I did before being diagnosed with Diabetes, Luckily it saved my life. Soda dehydrates the body and is abundant in sugar. There are so many healthier beverage options including water, juice, and tea.
Truck drivers should sleep for at least 7 hours per day in a dark and quiet place. Canadian research, 1 in 5 deaths on the roadway are caused by drivers who fell asleep while driving. Sleep is the key to health and safety, especially if you’re working long hours as a truck driver.
To avoid restlessness while driving, take a short break when necessary, and safe to do so. Pull to a rest stop and grab a snack or just stretch your legs and do some simple exercises. Small breaks can revamp your drive and give you more energy. You can take a few minutes to just touch your toes, roll out your neck, or even do some jumping jacks to get your blood flow circulating properly.
This is something the industry needs to help its drivers with. Every Truckstop or OnRoute/Rest area has Fast food in it. Cheap quick meals to keep going down the road with ample truck parking are targeting truck drivers.
Exercise as a Truck Driver is hard. You are sitting in your driver seat between 11 and 13 hours a day driving, depending on what country you are in. After a long day like that most drivers, myself included, would want a good meal, a shower, and head to bed. Try your best to even give 30 minutes of your 8-10 hour break towards exercise.
If these are things you can’t do, a great alternative is to take a walk around the parking lot or the block if it is safe. Not only is this great for your physical health, it's great for your mental health too. You can use this time to say hey to other drivers, catch up, and express yourself.
If your company allows it and you are able, get a dog or other pet for your truck. Not only is a pet a great source of companionship on the road, it'll help make sure you get out and stretch your legs everyday.
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