Based on its research, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) says that obesity in trucking is rampant. In response to the research, the Associated Press notes that many truckers do not wear seat belts because their stomachs get in the way, about one in four have sleep apnea, and half of all truckers smoke, compared to about one-fifth of all Americans. All of these are risk factors for high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. According to a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 75% of truckers are overweight, and 25% are obese. Clearly, trucking poses a challenge for a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, a Toronto researcher, claims that truck drivers live ten to fifteen years less than the average North American male, who lives to 76.
The concern for lack of health and fitness among truckers even spawned a reality show on CMT called Trick my Trucker, where the driver gets a makeover and a guide for healthy living. Outside of landing on a reality show, is there anything a trucker can do to battle against a lifestyle that is not conducive to healthy living?
Trucking does not compare to a normal job. A long-haul trucker does not have the option of hitting Gold’s Gym after work every day, and few appear to have taken the advice of Chuck Norris with the purchase of a Total Gym. While there are a handful of drivers who pay attention to their health, the majority are among the unhealthiest eaters on the planet.
There are many reasons for lack of healthy habits on the road. For a National driver, spending three to six weeks living in a truck simply has a way of chipping away resolve. After working 14 hours, it is often difficult to muster the motivation to prepare a healthy meal. Fatigue and stress can highlight the appeal of comfort food in a restaurant. After veering off the path of healthy eating on the road, I can attest to the difficulty of getting back on track. Boredom and loneliness are the perfect scapegoats for an unhealthy meal or snack.
While it may not be possible to regularly get a gym-quality workout on the road, many drivers are taking a creative approach to avoid the dreaded “trucker’s physique”. A Wisconsin driver decided to start a walking routine. Instead of waiting around for his truck to be unloaded, he walked a mile or so into the nearest town. He also advises to park at the back of a truck stop. This forces additional walking in the course of a normal day. Another driver I met stored a fold-up bicycle in his truck. Not only did it give him an enjoyable way to stay fit, it provided added mobility during down time. It obviously worked for him, as he was lean and muscular.
The only limit to finding ways to stay fit on the road is the driver’s creativity. I have seen a driver skipping rope at a truck stop, and another pumping iron on a weight bench beside his truck. I even found a contraption on the Internet called a “Truck Gym”. A metal frame screws into the floor behind the driver’s seat, and a series of resistance bands and adjustable rods, supposedly, affords a total-body workout without getting out of the driver’s seat.
Personally, I carry a set of dumbbells and resistance bands on the road, and I walk as much as I can. I normally prepare my own meals, but I sometimes fall victim to an insatiable craving for the greasy fare of the road. The best advice for any driver is to prepare most meals in the truck, avoid fast foods and buffets, and exercise for at least a few minutes a day. Even Bojangles chicken, my personal weakness, seems a little less appealing when I watch a driver, with belly fat hanging almost to his knees, waddle toward the truck stop after having parked as close to the buffet as humanly possible.
Personal hygiene is another issue that proves challenging for some drivers. While there are those who swear they shower daily, I find it impractical to attempt a daily shower on the road. While it is theoretically possible, the sacrifice of sleep time would seem to outweigh the positives. My personal goal is to get a “real” shower every other day while doing a quick wipe-down with baby-wipes on subsequent days. For me, this is a more practical goal that I am usually able to attain.
The major truck stop chains are usually good about providing clean shower facilities. With the purchase of fuel, the driver gets a free shower. Among the nicest shower facilities I have encountered is at the Bosselman Travel Center in Grand Island, Nebraska. They are always immaculately clean, and they are almost large enough for a three-on-three basketball game. As an added touch, the staff leaves a pair of Hershey’s kisses for the driver.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have encountered shower facilities that reflected a lower standard of work ethics. The most disgusting shower I ever saw was at an independent truck stop in Winnie, Texas. Used towels lay askew, and I would have bet that the shower’s last cleaning occurred during the Bill Clinton administration. I asked for my money back, and took a baby-wipe bath in the truck.
I have seen many drivers who neglect oral hygiene. It never ceases to amaze me that while all major trucking companies offer dental plans, I see so many with missing or disgusting teeth. I admit that it can be a challenge for a driver to keep a medical or dental appointment, but I would take some time off work, or even quit the company, before I’d let my teeth rot and fall out. I believe the majority of truckers care about personal hygiene, but some lend credence to the negative Hollywood stereotype.
A personal source of amusement to me is when I see a male driver flirting with a waitress or cashier at a truck stop while he is dirty, emanating a foul odor, his teeth (if he has them) are stained with coffee and nicotine, and his butt crack is peeking above the back of his greasy Levi’s. Still, he thinks he is God’s gift to women. As one driver puts it, “People, in general, are either nasty or clean. Their occupation has little to do with it.”
I tend to agree.