Running toward health

March Health Hero: Jeff Clark and his dog, Jack

Jeff Clark of Kewaunee, Wis., is a 49-year-old owner-operator leased to Transport International out of Pittsburgh and is training for his fourth marathon this spring. He’s come a long way from the days when the only exercise he got was walking from the truck to the truckstop, but he says he’ll never go back to his sedentary lifestyle. Three years ago his doctor told him he was at high risk for the heart disease that runs in his family, and he decided to change his lifestyle. He started off walking and gradually added short amounts of slow running.

“Eventually, I started running in local races and then decided to train for a marathon,” Clark says. He looks forward to downtime when he can run with Jack, his canine traveling companion.

The marathoner doesn’t mind that he finishes toward the back of the pack. “It’s not about time, it’s about the effort that goes into finishing,” he says. In fact, he’s so passionate about the health issues that plague truckers that he’s written and self-published a book, Hey, We’re Dying Out Here: The Truth About the Driver’s Shortage, in which he explores the reasons truckers live 15 fewer years than the average American male. “We’ve got to look at the whole system and figure out how to improve the life and health of truck drivers,” he says.

How long have you been driving?

20 years.

How did you get started on your weight loss and fitness program?

I started trying to lose weight before I started running. I lost about 20 pounds by changing my diet. And then I started exercising. The first mile I ran on the treadmill took me about 12 minutes. Now I run a nine-minute pace for a half marathon. My weight has gotten down to just under 200, and I’d like to lose more.

What inspired you to start losing weight?

I was fat, and with my family history of heart disease, I knew that it could be fatal.

What was the biggest challenge?

My love of food! I have trouble controlling portion size and love doughnuts!

How do you get through tough times?

I think about my brother, and I also get a lot of encouragement and feelings of self worth from my church.

How has your health improved?

My blood pressure is under control. My strength and agility are a lot better. That makes me feel younger. It is a lot more fun playing with my grandkids and my dogs, and I don’t get as tired as I used to.

What tips would you give other truckers?

Diet and exercise have to go together. I make sure I drink at least two liters of water a day and eat five veggies. It’s easy. Go grocery shopping and buy fruits such as oranges, apples, bananas and raisins. Buy a case of water instead of pop. Try to enjoy exercising. Make it a habit that you look forward to. Walking is great, but I have rediscovered running. Check out your area YMCA. Don’t overdo it. Go slow. Look for small improvements.

Any running tips?

Get away from truck stuff. Instead of walking around the truckstop, walk to the nearest town. I also strongly recommend trying a local 5K run/walk.

What’s your next goal?

I plan to run a marathon in less than four hours and 22 minutes. That is a 10-minute pace.

Favorite quote:

Winston Churchill: “Don’t ever give up.”


Wife: Roxanne Clark; Children: Nick and his wife Charayssa, Holly and Dave, Jason and Kevin; Grandchildren: Carsen, Ashtin, Cody and Alice and a new granddaughter due this month; Dogs: Jack and Chelsea
–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.

Health Question of the Month:
Help! I’m in my mid-50s and my doc says my cholesterol is too high. What can I do to keep from having to go on medication? I’m only about 20 pounds overweight, and I don’t exercise.- Jack from Mississippi

Pam Whitfield is a Chicago-based registered dietician.

A heart-healthy diet will help you control your cholesterol. Portion control and three balanced meals each day will help you control your weight. Here are some tips:

  1. Choose more “good” fats/fewer “bad” fats. The good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Fish has so much good fat that it’s recommended one to two times per week. A handful of unsalted nuts each day – almonds, walnuts or peanuts – has good fats, and so does avocado. For cooking, use olive oil or canola oil.

    You can actually see bad, saturated fats. Watch for marbling in beef, and choose leaner cuts. Lose the skins on chicken, and trim the fat on pork. Pastries and doughnuts are high in saturated fat. Buy low-fat or skim milk. Rule of thumb? If it’s solid at room temperature, it’s probably high in saturated fat.

    Stop ordering deep-fried food. It’s loaded with saturated fat. Grill, bake or broil for heart health. Choose smaller portion sizes – three ounces of food equals about the size of a deck of cards.

    Finally, eggs, shellfish and liver are especially high in cholesterol, so plan the rest of your day’s fats and cholesterol if you’re choosing one of these.

  2. Eat more fiber. This means fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber helps digestion, but it also lowers cholesterol. Have a small piece of fruit two to three times each day. Have veggies at lunch and dinner or as a snack.
  3. Eat less salt. Hide the shaker. Limit aged and smoked foods like cheese and sausage.

Ronald Rush, M.D., is a family care physician with Highway Health Care and clinical director of MedXpress Health Care in Texarkana, Texas.

High cholesterol is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. Strokes, heart attacks, leg cramps, erectile dysfunction, visual loss and other health problems are often related to your cholesterol level. The higher the LDL and the triglycerides (bad cholesterol) and the lower the HDL (good cholesterol), the more you are at risk of early death and complications from cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to improve your cholesterol numbers by lifestyle modification alone. While it is very beneficial to do daily exercise and to eat a heart-healthy diet, this may not be enough. Your goal should not be to avoid medication; it should be to lower your risk of adverse health problems from bad cholesterol numbers.

My advice to you is to adopt cardiovascular lifestyle modifications because of their benefit to your whole health. This includes daily exercise, proper diet and over-the-counter fish oil capsules, if you’re not allergic to fish.

In some cases, you should use cholesterol medications – even with good cholesterol! If you have any cardiovascular problem or diabetes, or if you have a family history of early heart disease, you have a much higher risk of future problems.

Linda Dunn is a fitness expert from Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Exercise has positive effects on lowering cholesterol. People who are physically active on a regular basis have higher levels of HDL, good cholesterol. Inactivity leads to a relative increase in LDL, bad cholesterol. Research shows that physical activity also lowers LDL and triglyceride levels. Only moderate amounts of exercise are required to experience positive changes in cholesterol levels. A moderate amount of activity can mean as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking every day. You may have to start out with 10-15 minutes of walking and build up to 30-45 minutes.

At first, try walking at a brisk pace, but make sure you can maintain a conversation during it. As you gain stamina, try gradually adding hills to the regime or find stairs to climb for 10 minutes of more challenging activity. Jumping rope for one to three minutes is a high-impact and high-intensity activity that can be done as your fitness level improves. Exercise should be progressive and become as important to you as eating and sleeping is! Keep it a daily practice until it becomes a habit you don’t want to break. Also, it’s always a good idea to begin each exercise routine with a brief warm-up, and follow the routine by stretching your major muscles (legs, hips, buttocks and lower back).

Understanding the Numbers
Your HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level

With HDL cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL (less than 40 mg/dL for men, less than 50 mg/dL for women) puts you at higher risk for heart disease. In the average man, HDL cholesterol levels range from 40 to 50 mg/dL. In the average woman, 50 to 60 mg/dL. An HDL cholesterol of 60 mg/dL or higher gives some protection against heart disease.

People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Your LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level
The lower your LDL cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, it’s a better gauge of risk than total blood cholesterol.

LDL Cholesterol Levels: Less than 100 mg/dL is Optimal; 100 to 129 mg/dL is Near Optimal/Above Optimal; 130 to 159 mg/dL is Borderline High; 160 to 189 mg/dL is High; and 190 mg/dL and above is Very High.

Your Triglyceride Level
Triglyceride is a form of fat. People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including high LDL and low HDL levels.

Your triglyceride level will fall into one of these categories:

  • Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline-High: 150-199 mg/dL
  • High: 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very High: 500 mg/dL

Spotlight on Products
Timex Digital Pedometer

Track your steps on your way to better health with this Timex digital pedometer. Compact and lightweight (3.2 ounces), it counts up to 99,999 steps, computes burned calories, and tracks distance in miles or kilometers. It also features a flip-top case with spring-loaded belt clip, easy-to-read display with Indiglo night light, automatic activity timer, and an included battery with a max 10,000-hour life. Price: $30 at

The advice and opinions expressed herein are only general suggestions. Before you undertake any course of action, you should consult your doctor to determine what steps are right for you. Randall-Reilly Publishing, Truckers News and the experts consulted for these articles do not endorse, warrant or promote in any way the products of any of our sponsors.