Truck drivers often travel hundreds of miles a day and can spend days away from home at a time. With such a demanding career, making healthy choices and prioritizing physical fitness can be challenging.
However, staying healthy is essential for your well-being and safety as well as the safety of those around you on the highway. When you’re well-rested, hydrated and well-nourished, you’re more alert and less likely to develop health problems that could potentially take you off the road.
Implementing healthier habits into your day can have an immense impact on your health, and it’s not difficult to do. We explored some of the most common health problems truck drivers face and provided nine easy tips for implementing new habits that can help reduce your risk of developing these issues while improving your overall physical and mental health.
Common Truck Driver Health Problems
Truck drivers statistically have more health problems than those in other careers due to their lifestyle and work environment. Surveys conducted by the Federal Motor Career Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that truckers, particularly long-haul truck drivers, are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea, and are also more likely to smoke, be overweight and not get enough exercise.
These health issues not only impact the overall well-being of truck drivers, but can also negatively affect carrier Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores with the FMCSA. A driver’s fitness and ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle is one of seven categories the FMCSA uses to develop CSA scores. Medical conditions or severe fatigue that make it unsafe for drivers to operate a truck can impact scores and may require FMCSA intervention.
Below are some of the most common health problems truck drivers experience:
- Obesity – Surveys conducted by the FMCSA and CDC found that 69% or seven out of 10 long-haul truck drivers are considered obese. Being obese or overweight can increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and insomnia.
- Smoking – Studies indicate that truck drivers are more likely to smoke compared to other U.S. workers, and the rate of smoking among female drivers is three times higher than the national average. Smoking can increase your risk of many types of cancer, coronary heart disease, emphysema and stroke.
- High Blood Pressure – Also called hypertension, high blood pressure can lead to heart damage, heart disease and stroke.
- Diabetes – FMCSA surveys found that 14% of long-haul truck drivers report having diabetes, compared to just 7% of the rest of the U.S. workforce. Diabetes can lead to health complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – Sleep apnea occurs when the tongue folds back and blocks air flow while sleeping and has been tied to smoking, obesity and genetics. Those who have sleep apnea typically have trouble sleeping, tire easily, have decreased reaction times, and are more likely to experience irritation, mood swings, anxiety, depression, memory loss and headaches.
- Low Physical Activity – Three out of four truck drivers report that they do not get the recommended 2.5 hours of physical activity each week. However, research shows that regular physical activity can improve sleep, reduce stress, enhance alertness and reduce the chance of highway accidents.
- Musculoskeletal Injuries – Truck drivers have limited mobility in their cabs and typically sit for several hours at a time. Sitting in the same position for long periods can lead to neck and back injuries as well as muscle spasms that can become chronic if left untreated.
Easy Tips for Staying Healthy as a Truck Driver
As the data above suggests, the trucker lifestyle can make it difficult to practice healthy habits like exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep. Fortunately, introducing simple daily habits into your routine can help reduce the risk of developing the health issues we listed above and improve your overall physical and mental health.
Take it slow as you embark on your new health journey. You’re more likely to give up on trying new things if you try to change too many parts of your routine at once. Try incorporating just one of the health tips below each month to develop healthy habits that will stick. Each new habit you introduce into your routine is an accomplishment and one step toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle on the road.
1. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy as a truck driver. They’re loaded with essential vitamins and minerals that benefit your overall health and are high in fiber, which aids in digestion and lowers cholesterol. Prioritize fruits and vegetables high in omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin C that your body needs to fight illnesses. These include leafy greens like spinach and kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, peas, peppers, melon, citrus fruits and strawberries.
It’s easy to add fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks throughout the day by incorporating them into drinks and meals or pre-portioning them for quick, healthy snacks. Veggies that are easy to eat on the go with some ranch or hummus include baby carrots, celery, snap peas, cut-up bell peppers, zucchini slices and cherry tomatoes. When it comes to fruit, you’ll get the most nutritional benefit from fresh fruits, but frozen fruits blended in a smoothie or canned fruits packed in their own natural juice are great options as well.
2. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated is essential for boosting your immune system and preventing dehydration. To make sure you’re staying hydrated while driving, keep a supply of water in your cab that’s easily accessible, whether it’s a case of water bottles or a refillable water bottle you can refill each time you stop. If you need something to make water more appetizing, try lemon or lime for added flavor, or opt for sparkling water or seltzer that has added carbonation. Avoid flavorings with added sugars.
Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to reach for your water. It’s better to take sips throughout the day, drink a glass of water with each meal, and drink before, during and after exercise. If you feel thirsty, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s already dehydrated, and even mild dehydration can make you feel tired and sluggish.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that men drink 15.5 cups and women drink 11.5 cups of water per day. You’ll know you’re getting enough water if you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colorless or light yellow.
3. Avoid Stimulants Like Caffeine
While caffeinated beverages like coffee, energy drinks and soda can give you a boost of energy when you feel tired, they can have a negative impact on your health. Caffeinated drinks can actually dehydrate you and only give you temporary bouts of alertness when what you really need is rest.
If you feel like you need caffeine to get you through a route, try a healthier caffeinated alternative like green tea, which is rich in antioxidants that provide benefits for your immune system. Drinking water and staying hydrated can also give you energy and reduce fatigue throughout the day.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential for both your safety and health and can help you stay alert both on and off the road. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, and suggests those who sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to have health issues. Unfortunately, a study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) in 2014 found that 27% of truck drivers get six or fewer hours of sleep at night.
Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night and lie down for bed at the same time every day to help your body develop a regular sleep cycle, if possible. Use a sunshade cover, blackout curtains, or a sleep mask to block out light to make it easier to sleep and allow your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps with sleep and the timing of your circadian rhythm. Avoiding light from TV and phone screens before bed can also increase melatonin levels.
5. Exercise Regularly
While you may not be able to hit the gym while you’re on the road, there are plenty of opportunities to fit in some easy cardio, weight exercises and stretching. Getting regular exercise helps improve your overall health and your body’s ability to fight off disease. Positive effects of exercise include reduced stress, improved cardiovascular health, improved immune response, enhanced alertness, reduced risk of high blood pressure and improved sleep.
Start by adding just 15 to 30 minutes of basic exercise to your routine each day to allow your body to get used to the increased physical activity. As the exercises begin to feel easier and time allows, slowly increase the intensity and length of your workouts. Here’s a good place to start:
- Cardio: Walking, jogging, jumping jacks, jump roping, squats, crunches and pushups can quickly elevate your heart rate and strengthen muscles over time. If you’re filling up at a truck stop, take a quick 15-minute walk around the parking lot to stretch your legs and get your blood flowing before you get back in the cab.
- Weights: Small 5- or 10-pound hand weights can easily be stored in your truck and are heavy enough to increase your heart rate and aid in muscle building. Simple hand-weight exercises include bicep curls, shoulder presses, stationary lunges and lateral raises.
- Stretching: You should always stretch before and after an exercise session to relax and loosen your muscles and avoid injury. Focus on your arms, legs, neck, back, wrists and hands.
6. Quit Smoking
While smoking may not be the easiest habit to break, it can definitely have an immense impact on your overall health. The CDC provides great tips for quitting and dealing with urges and cravings to smoke.
Many truck drivers report that they smoke to stay awake and combat stress. Other healthy habits that can replace smoking and provide the same effect include:
- Getting seven or more hours of sleep per night
- Drinking more water
- Increasing physical activity
- Increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids that boost alertness
- Losing extra weight by eating a well-balanced diet and decreasing portion sizes
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels steady
7. Cut Down on Junk Food
Fast food, junk foods and highway restaurants are often convenient, cheap and easily accessible for truck drivers. Unfortunately, these foods are often unhealthy and high in calories and fat that can contribute to weight gain, affect blood sugar levels and cause other health issues when consumed regularly.
Instead, try to make time to go to the grocery store and buy foods that you can cook ahead of time and bring with you or easily prepare in your truck. Opt for items such as:
- Produce: fresh fruit, pre-packaged salads and cut-up veggies
- Quick, microwavable meals: oatmeal, instant rice, low-sodium popcorn
- Healthy snacks: granola bars, dry fruits, nuts, trail mix and whole grain crackers
- Meat and Dairy: low-sodium beef and turkey jerky, to-go tuna pouches, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt and cheese
Buying a power inverter for your truck gives you the option to use a small microwave or mini refrigerator to make your own meals and store ingredients. Bringing a cooler from home is also a great option for keeping meals cold during a shift. When eating out is your only option, look for healthier/lighter items on the menu, such as grilled chicken and salads.
8. Eat Lighter Meals
Heavier/larger meals take a lot of energy to digest when you’re sitting behind the wheel, which can lead to you feeling tired after you finish eating. Instead, try eating three smaller meals and two to three healthy snacks to help you feel full and energized throughout the day. It’s also important to always start your day with breakfast, as it replenishes your body’s glucose levels after a good night’s sleep and boosts your energy levels and alertness.
Start by slowly reducing your portions and keeping healthy, portioned-out snacks on hand that you can easily grab when you start to feel hungry.
9. Manage Stress Levels
Truck driving can be a stressful career, with heavy traffic and long hours spent on the road. However, there are many things you can do to manage stress while driving that will help improve both your physical and mental health.
Start by recognizing what is causing your stress. If you know what is causing your stress, you can implement habits into your day to manage and reduce that stress when it occurs. Effective stress management techniques include taking a break to stretch, going outside to get fresh air, listening to your favorite music or a podcast you enjoy, reading a book, visiting with other drivers at a truck stop, and staying in contact with friends and family members. All of these activities can help you relax and refocus on your day, allowing you to feel refreshed and energized.
Rush Truck Centers Is Your Total Solutions Provider
Just as these health tips can help keep your body in tip-top shape, Rush Truck Centers has everything you need to keep your truck in peak working condition. We provide our customers a one-stop shop for new and used heavy- and medium-duty truck sales, all-makes parts and service, and collision repair. And our RushCare Customer Support Team is on-call 24/7 to answer questions, help you find the nearest Rush Truck Centers dealership, dispatch roadside assistance or schedule a service appointment.
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