Fit for the Road

Jogging around a truckstop or doing jumping jacks outside your tractor-trailer may get you a few strange looks. But it could also go a long way in preventing long-term problems associated with inactivity.

That’s because regular exercise is a proven way to significantly reduce the risk of health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of adults in the United States don’t get enough physical activity. For truckers on the road constantly, exercise may seem like a luxury, not a lifestyle choice. Yet there are ways for truck drivers to stay in shape while they stay on the road.

Mark Carter, a driver for Frozen Food Express, says he tries to exercise at least 45 minutes each day. “I try to run about two miles whenever I get a chance,” he says. Carter also carries dumbbells with him on his truck and uses them when doing things like bicep curls and squats.

“Most truck drivers don’t take out the time to do it,” he says. Carter adds that, ironically, a lot of drivers don’t exercise because of a lack of energy, and they fear that “if you work out first, you’ll be too tired to drive, and if you wait until the end of the day you’ll be too tired to work out.”

Carter, determined to stay healthy and to control his weight, makes time and continues to make regular exercise a priority.

The CDC recommends excercising for 30 minutes, five times per week at any intensity level, and says that men and women of all ages can benefit from this moderate amount of daily physical activity. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer and diabetes.

Physical activity can also help maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints. Exercise can help control weight, develop lean muscle and reduce body fat. Beyond physical benefits, exercise can also promote emotional and mental well-being by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Joel Shorey, from Denver, has been a truck driver for 13 years. Despite his busy schedule, Shorey always finds time to exercise. He says that the most important thing about fitness is attitude.

“You have to make the decision that you are not going to get sit around and get fat and out of shape,” he says. Shorey stresses that truckers should be creative with their down time. For example, the time truckers spend at docks waiting for their trucks to be loaded or unloaded could be used to exercise. “You can sit around and chat on your CB or you can get off your butt and exercise,” he says.

One exercise Shorey recommends is running around the truckstop. “You may get a few funny looks, but remember that those guys are just sitting in their trucks getting fat,” he says. For those who have the option, Shorey also suggests that truckers unload their trucks on their own.

But with winter here, how can drivers exercise in cold weather? For runners, like Carter, exercise is harder when there’s snow on the ground. Cold wind can be a problem, too. Shorey recommends using a trailer to block off a small area from the wind and doing exercises like jumping jacks, jogging in place, push-ups and sit-ups.

Kristen Davis, fitness coordinator for the University of Alabama’s Student Recreation Center, suggests that truckers invest in a set of dumbbells. “With dumbbells you can do almost everything you need for upper body,” she says. That includes bicep curls, shoulder presses and triceps kickbacks.

Davis also recommends ankle weights for lower body exercises, though not while walking. She recommends exercises like leg lifts, hamstring curls and leg extensions.

And with these exercises, winter weather is no problem because they can be done inside a sleeper. “You can do also do tricep dips using the side of a bed,” says Davis. Crunches and push-ups are also good exercises that can be done inside a sleeper.

Davis says that in order to prevent muscles from getting stiff, it is critical that older adults include exercises that increase flexibility in their workout regimens.

“Stretching and working on flexibility is especially important for truckers since they have to sit so much,” she says, stressing that as people get older, flexibility is one of the first things they lose.

Shorey says the decisions you make today about exercise may determine your physical condition down the road.

“In 10 years you’re going to be 10 years older,” Shorey says. “But you don’t have to be 10 years fatter or weaker.”