Life transformation

Dirk van Wyngaarden with his bike in La Jara, N.M., during a 40-mile ride.

Nine years ago, Dirk van Wyngaarden’s life was at its lowest point. The Appleby company driver from Brantford, Ontario, Canada, was 43 years old and weighed 340 pounds when his doctor told him his blood pressure (160/93) was severely high. Not only that, he was at high risk for stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer and injuries resulting from stressed joints. In fact, an earlier fall from the cab resulted in a shattered right ankle, and he was struggling through the slow-healing, painful injury. “I realized I had to change my life. There was no other choice,” van Wyngaarden says.

His quest to lose weight and adopt a healthy fitness routine is a remarkable story of courage and perseverance. It began with baby steps. “I started with a short walk around the truck and began ordering less food at truckstops,” he says. His early efforts left him exhausted and drenched in sweat, battling doubt and constant hunger. Slowly, through exercise and calorie reduction, the pounds began to come off. He lost more than 100 pounds in the end, a loss he’s maintained for six years.

This summer, he plans to ride his bike across the country in a charity ride for the Christian Reformed Church’s Sea to Sea tour ( He’s cycling from Seattle to Jersey City, about 3,600 miles. It will take him nine weeks.

“I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life,” he says.

How long have you been driving?

Since I was 18 years old, for 34 years.

What made you decide to lose weight and start biking?

A lot of health issues related to being so overweight: a broken ankle, and then my doc’s warning that if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, I’d lose my CDL. My father died at 60 of diabetes and that’s one thing I’ve worried about.

What was the biggest challenge in your weight-loss quest?

I was cold, tired and hungry all the time. I kept doubting my ability to do it and didn’t start exercising until I lost 50 pounds. I missed all the comfort food I was used to.

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What kept you going during the tough times?

Once I had lost a substantial amount of weight, I couldn’t stand the thought of gaining it back and looking like a failure. I felt like people were watching me, looking at me for inspiration that it could be done.

How has your overall health improved?

It’s amazing! My blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol is down, gastrointestinal issues cleared up, energy is better and my blood sugar is down.

What tips would you give someone who wants to do what you did?

Go for a walk every day. You think you don’t have time, but go for a walk down the service road or walk around the truckstop. Instead of sitting down for a meal, get a sandwich to eat in the cab and take a walk with the extra time. Cut out sodas, and pack fruits and veggies to snack on. I still drink lots of coffee. Don’t deny yourself, but do cut back on the things you love.

What’s your next goal?

Ride my bike 3,600 miles on the cross-country tour. I’d also eventually like to lose 30 pounds, get down to 200 pounds.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can accomplish!
–Carolyn Magner

Nominate Health Heroes
Do you know any truckers who have worked hard to become more healthy? Maybe they’ve quit smoking, started an exercise program, controlled their sleep apnea or changed their eating habits. E-mail [email protected] or send to Truckers News Fit for the Road 3200 Rice Mine Rd. NE Tuscaloosa, AL 35406.

Heart Attack Warning Signs
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense – but most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives – maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1.
Source: American Heart Association

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Ask the Experts
I’m a 55-year-old trucker who has high blood pressure and is 50 pounds overweight. What should my New Year’s health resolutions be?
– Bob, Tulsa

Ronald Rush, M.D., is a family care physician with Highway Health Care and clinical director of MedXpress Health Care in Texarkana, Texas.
Being a truck driver in your 50s can be a challenge. Up until now you may not have had many health issues to deal with. But being 40 pounds overweight and having high blood pressure are significant health concerns. Being a trucker makes it more difficult – it’s hard to find time to exercise, and making healthy food choices from a limited menu is sometimes not possible. So where do you start?

First, you need to know what you are up against. Schedule an appointment with your family doctor. Ask him to test your cholesterol, thyroid and blood counts. If you find a problem, treat it. Set goals with your doctor for your ideal weight and blood pressure. If needed, there are many medications to help you lower your blood pressure. Take advantage of these medications while you develop new eating patterns and exercise programs. Don’t look for shortcuts. Avoid most supplements and calorie-heavy energy drinks. Cut out fat and sugar anywhere you can. Don’t snack on candy, chips or sugared soft drinks. Most important, you must figure out some way to get your heart rate up with aerobic exercise for 30-minute sessions every day. A great way to do this might be a good pair of jogging shoes and a jump rope. Good luck!

Pam Whitfield is a Chicago-based registered dietician.
Losing weight gets tougher as you get older. Your metabolism slows down, and you’ve got less lean muscle mass. That makes it harder to drop the pounds. But even losing just a few pounds can improve your blood pressure.

Here are a few New Year’s resolutions to help lose weight and lower blood pressure:

  1. Eat three moderate-size meals each day.
  2. Reduce portion sizes. With 3,500 calories in a pound, you can drop one pound every week just by lowering your intake 500 calories each day. That’s about three cans of regular pop. (Many drivers drink a six pack or more!) Trading in the 12-ounce steak for a 6-ounce chicken breast can do it, too. Or exchange pasta for veggies.
  3. Hide the salt shaker. Forget you ever saw it. You don’t need it. Find other seasonings.
  4. Limit the fast food. It has more sodium than you realize.
  5. Aged and smoked foods like cheese and sausage and canned, pre-packaged convenience foods are often high in sodium. Start reading nutrition labels. The goal for the day is 2,400 mg. Most of us have 4,000-6,000 mg/day, and I’ve worked with drivers who worked their way down from 14,000 mg each day. You can do it, too.

Linda Dunn is a fitness expert from Tuscaloosa, Ala.
If you’ve not been exercising at all, consider a walking program for 2008. Begin with three- to five-minute segments two or three times a day. Make sure you begin on a flat, even surface (no hills or inclines yet). Every time you take a break, try to walk. Don’t use any hand or ankle weights, just walk outside at a comfortable but brisk pace.

Invest in a pair of good shoes that provide arch support and lateral support with a wide toe base. Some shoe stores offer custom “foot printing” and can recommend the best shoe support for your foot strike.

In a few weeks, you’ll build up your stamina and ability to move. Don’t get discouraged if it’s difficult at first – walking will become easier over time with practice. After 30 days you will be amazed at how good you feel walking 15-20 minutes or more a day. In three months you may be walking 25-30 minutes at one time, and it will become a healthy addiction.

Even moderate exercise like walking can result in firmer muscle tone and weight loss, which will help with your blood pressure and stress levels and even give you more energy.

Remember, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise or weight loss regimen.

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