Get moving, get fit

Owner-operator John Shook incorporates an exercise routine into his Fit for the Road program. He’s working his upper body using weight resistance from simple rubber tubing attached to the front of his truck.

Fit for the Road is a yearlong program designed to raise awareness among truckers about obesity. Five truckers were selected from more than 350 applicants to participate in the program. They received a full medical checkup by Dr. John McElligott of Professional Drivers Medical Depots, a healthy diet plan by registered dietician Pam Whitfield and a custom exercise regime by fitness expert Linda Dunn. At the mid-way mark, all five participants have made tremendous progress, which you can follow at this site.

The program is sponsored by Truckers News, Marten Transport and Bibby Financial Services.

Just six months ago, Nancy Younger, an owner-operator from Kathleen, Fla., weighed 292 pounds, wore a 28W pant size and had dangerously high blood sugar.

Dr. John McElligott, the physician for the Truckers News Fit for the Road program, prescribed five minutes of walking per day for Younger and the other four overweight participants. His instructions included gradually adding more minutes to the regime.

Today, Younger walks/runs three to four miles a day – every day. She’s also lost more than 55 pounds, and her blood sugar is stable, her blood pressure good, and she’s excited to report that she’s in a size 20W and is even eyeing the styles on the size 18W rack.

Getting in shape means more than just following a healthy diet plan. Adding a fitness regime is the only way to continue the quest to achieve a healthier lifestyle. The five participants in the Truckers News Fit for the Road program have made stunning progress toward the goals they’ve set for themselves.

Healthy eating
The program began on New Year’s Day with a complete diet overhaul. Eating healthier on the road has been the biggest hurdle. It’s hard to make the right choices when food selection is limited by high-fat/calorie menus. Registered dietician Pam Whitfield designed custom meal plans for the five truckers after reviewing food diaries they’d kept over the weeks leading up to the program. Her philosophy is a sensible approach to dieting that doesn’t involve fast fixes or trendy food combinations. Choosing smaller portions, eating three healthy meals per day and adding low-calorie, nutritious snacks between meals seems like it’s almost too easy. But as the five Fit for the Road truckers found out, it means changing how they go about their day.

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Once they decreased calories and fat, the pounds began slipping off. The next step was to add a fitness routine to add strength and flexibility and aerobic activity to increase both weight loss and heart health.

Getting started
A good fitness evaluation is the first step to beginning any new fitness routine. Most health clubs or YMCAs will offer this service.

Linda Dunn, a fitness expert from Tuscaloosa, Ala., works with clients to develop a fitness program that’s realistic yet challenging. She met with Younger and John Shook to evaluate their current level of fitness and devise a routine to help them continue their progress.

The two-hour process included measuring height, weight, blood pressure and Body Mass Index. Other measurements included waist to hip ratio, sit-and-reach flexibility, the push-up test to measure muscular endurance, and a one-mile run/walk with heart rate measurement before and after the tests.

Next, Dunn showed them simple exercises using Xertube – inexpensive rubber tubing with handles to use for strengthening and muscle conditioning. She added some easy stretches to improve flexibility. Key activities she wants Shook and Younger to work on include abdominal exercises, hamstring stretches, and chest and shoulder strengthening.

Both Younger and Shook did well in the one-mile run/walk, and she instructed them to use a pedometer to aid in measuring the number of daily steps added by walking or running.

“Younger and Shook are very motivated individuals, and if they keep up this pace and momentum, their hard work can impact the trucking industry,” Dunn says.

“I feel more energy than I can remember having,” said Shook as he practiced the routines with the Xertube. His goal includes being a good father to his active, 3-year-old son, Matthew. “Just trying to keep up with him keeps me running,” Shook says. “That’s plenty of motivation to keep working hard to get in better shape.”

He enjoys bicycling and plans to try out a folding bicycle made by Montague. “People are starting to notice that I’ve lost weight. I’m never going back to the way I was when I started this program,” he says.

Not only has he lost weight, but his out-of-control blood pressure is now stabilized with medication and exercise. In fact, he’s hoping his doctor will let him start to decrease his medicine after his next visit. Twenty-five pounds and still losing strong, Shook is also hoping his health insurance provider will consider giving him a discount on rates.

Younger blew past Dr. McElligott’s five-minute-walk rule from the first week she started the program. In spite of a torn meniscus in her knee, which forces her to walk with a brace, she’s been a woman on a mission. When she pulls into a truckstop, she gets on the CB and urges other truckers to join her in a brisk walk. “I don’t get many takers, but I keep on asking,” says the feisty owner-operator. She’s determined to keep up her exercise routine no matter what obstacles come her way. “Park that truck and get walking!” she tells truckers who will listen.

Carey and Terry Hill also added walking and simple weight lifting to their regular routines. They’ve each lost more than 20 pounds and have enjoyed working out and following the diet plans together. “Terry and I walk for 45 minutes every day,” Carey says. “When we are home, we walk around the mall. When one of us is lagging in motivation, the other one is there to keep on pushing. It’s been a great journey so far.” She’s brought along 5-pound hand weights to do simple curls in the cab before walking. Terry uses weights in addition to his walking program. “It’s a matter of changing simple routines like parking further from the truckstop,” Terry says.

Albert Morales has lost 20 pounds and is walking a little more each week. His motivation comes from his family’s loyal support, and he’s ready to step up his exercise regime to continue making progress past the initial weight-loss success.

One common obstacle is the “plateau effect.” After shedding the first 20 pounds it’s hard to continue a steady weight loss without adding exercise. In fact, the surgeon general recommends a moderate-intensity workout for 30 minutes a day, which can be broken down into two bouts of 15 minutes or three bouts of 10 minutes. For many truckers, the idea of adding regular exercise to a long day on the road seems too hard.

Joan Price, author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book: 300 Quick and Easy Exercises You Can Do Whenever You Want!, says the solitary, sedentary life of a trucker makes it more difficult but not impossible to adopt and stick to a fit lifestyle. Of course, there’s no health club instructor on the road with you, telling you to “just do it!” But she says a simple painless program can make a big difference.

She recommends wearing a pedometer and beginning a walking program. The pedometer counts the steps you take all day long, and you can log your progress. “Walk 15 minutes before you eat dinner at night and then, instead of staying for dessert, top off your night with another short, brisk walk,” Price says. “Log your steps each day and try to beat your daily average by adding 400-500 steps.”

She also recommends a fitness buddy, even if you have to find one on the Internet. You don’t have to look too far – Nancy Younger is willing to take on any challengers through her blog on “Arrange a daily check-in with your online buddy and help each other stay on track,” Price recommends.

Adding steps to your day through walking or running and adopting a daily routine that adds weight/resistance training pays off in multiple ways. Younger says she has more energy and feels better overall. Shook says the health benefits – such as lower blood pressure – inspire him to increase his exercise. The Hills report that their daily walks together have become a way to recharge their batteries. Morales says he feels better and wants to continue to lose weight. All say getting started begins with stepping out of the cab.

In her blog, Younger describes how sometimes she literally sat in her cab and cried at the thought of getting out and beginning her 45-minute walk. But her steady weight-loss progress has transformed her into a regular exerciser, and she doesn’t feel good now when she misses a workout.

“I’m doing this not just for myself and my husband,” Younger says, “but for all truckers out there who think it can’t be done.”

10,000 Steps a Day
A typical sedentary person may average about 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day. Recent guidelines recommend walking 10,000 steps per day. How far is 10,000 steps? The average person’s stride length is approximately 2.5 feet long. That means it takes just over 2,000 steps to walk one mile, and 10,000 steps is close to 5 miles.

A reasonable goal for most people is to increase average daily steps each week by 500 per day until you can easily average 10,000 per day.

If you currently average 3,000 steps each day, your goal for week one is 3,500 each day. Your week two goal is 4,000 each day. Continue to increase each week, and you should be averaging 10,000 steps by the end of 14 weeks.

Start by wearing a pedometer every day for one week. Put it on when you get up in the morning and wear it until bedtime. Record your daily steps in a log. By the end of the week you will know your average daily steps. You might be surprised how many (or how few) steps you get in each day.

For more information, visit this site.

Abs in the Cab
Here’s a tip from Joan Price, author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book, to strengthen your abs and keep your back in good posture while driving.

Pull in your abs and lengthen your spine and neck. Imagine you are lifting a brick with the top of your head. Then adjust the rear-view mirror so you can see out of it only in this great, ab-conditioning posture.

Visit this site to order an autographed book from Price with a special discount by putting “trucker” in the comments book.

Update on the Fab Five
Name: Nancy Younger
Company: WRY Enterprises
Age: 42
Height: 5’7″
Weight at start: 292 pounds
Current Weight: 237 pounds
Health improvement: Excellent blood sugar levels, 140/80 blood pressure, more energy, feels better overall.
Fitness routine: Walks/runs 3-4 miles per day. Uses a pedometer to calculate steps. Uses Xertube for muscle conditioning.

Name: Albert Morales
Company: Marten Transport
Age: 49
Height: 5’7″
Weight at start: 261 pounds
Weight now: 241 pounds
Health improvement: Feels better, more energy, blood pressure decreased.
Fitness routine: Walks every day.

Name: Terry Hill
Age: 35
Height: 5’7-1/2″
Weight at start: 289 pounds
Weight now: 269 pounds
Health improvement: Sleeps better, more motivated, more energy.
Fitness routine: Walks every day for 45 minutes and uses light hand weights.

Name: Carey Hill
Age: 53
Height: 5’7″
Weight at start: 248 pounds
Weight now: 228 pounds
Health improvement: Feels better overall. Increased energy.
Fitness routine: Walks with husband and dog every day. Uses light hand weights in the cab for muscle toning.

Name: John Shook
Age: 38
Height: 6′
Weight at start: 255 pounds
Weight now: 230 pounds
Health improvement: Blood pressure 124/82, feels better, sleeps better, more energy.
Fitness routine: Walks 30 minutes a day. On home time, rides his bicycle and walks. Uses Xertube for weight/resistance training.