Fit for the Road

| November 01, 2011

Breaking down the wall

Drivers wanting to implement healthier routines into a busy schedule need patience, perseverance and a little know-how


Ken Zelten had high cholesterol, and in May 2010, his doctor told him he had three options to bring it down — change his diet, take medication or start exercising. He doesn’t like taking medicine for various reasons, he says, and he thought exercise would be a bit easier to start than a full-on diet change.

When trying to balance a healthy lifestyle with a busy driving schedule, start by finding places to walk daily and by cutting down on high-carb and high-sugar foods.

“I didn’t want to get too complicated with my exercise,” he says. “So I just went to basically doing pushups and sit-ups,” things he could do on the road.

Then he picked up running, and “once I started running, the weight dropped off. I went from 211 pounds down to 180. Six months after that, I went in and had a health screening and my cholesterol was down 50 points.”

Like most drivers, Zelten, an owner-operator from Wisconsin, was challenged by the diet and exercise constraints that come with a full-time driving schedule. Running and walking, however, are quick and easy ways to start changing habits, he says.

“I didn’t invest a lot of money into it,” he says. I just bought a good pair of running shoes. All you have to do is step out of the truck, put on your shoes, and start walking or running.”

Dr. Ronald Rush of Highway Health Care in Texarkana, Texas, says drivers should find downtime at any point during the day to walk a few laps around truckstops or other parking lots or while waiting to deliver loads.

Changes in diet, Rush says, should be a primary focus from the beginning, too. “That’s the first thing they have to get under control,” he says, and he recommends moving toward a low-carb diet that weeds out sweet colas, crackers and other high-carbohydrate and high-sugar snacks.

“Those things produce an abundance of insulin secretion,” Rush says. “And that’s going to prevent them from burning any of their stored fat.” If cravings don’t go away, Rush says a tablespoon of peanut butter every few hours and plenty of water should curb appetites.

Bob Perry, the Trucker Trainer and Rolling Strong president, says weight loss is “75 percent what you put in your mouth,” and drivers should prepare quality snacks and meals for the road before leaving.

Perry recommends walking “intensity,” he says. “Put your cell phone away. Stand up straight, and be conscious of your posture. Keep your stomach muscles as tight as you can and walk ahead with some intention.” Even if it’s only in five- or 10-minute increments, “it gets your mind relaxing and off of the job,” exercising your cardiovascular system.

Zelten says the most important thing with health is to simply start, “and start wherever you feel comfortable with starting.” Zelten runs about 15 miles a week now, he says, and makes time to run where he can on the road and at both ends of his weekly hauls from Wisconsin to California and back. He also says a few dozen jumping jacks works when nothing else will.

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