Staying resolute

July Health Hero Gary Kujak

Gary Kujak, a trucker from Michigan, never gave much thought to his overall health. He’s been a truck driver since 1979 and has slowly acquired poor health habits like overeating and smoking. His infrequent exercise and few trips to the doctor saw a dramatic upsurge after a work-related physical on December 2, 1994, where his physician urged him to consider quitting cigarettes and losing weight.

“So, I did. I smoked my last cigarette that same day in preparation for my 1995 New Year’s resolution to lose weight and stop smoking,” Kujak says. The following days were rough. “I drank lots of water and chewed sugarless gum while I tried to stay busy and not think about the cravings.” By day three, amazing things began to happen to his body. “I felt a tingling sensation in my arms and legs,” he says. “Like the blood was starting to flow after all those years.” His restless-leg syndrome disappeared and he swears he felt sections of his lungs open up. He felt better and had more energy and a more positive outlook as his cravings for nicotine subsided.

In the meantime, a sense of wanting to get healthier set in, and on December 28, 1994, he joined a local gym. Still, he wasn’t making the progress he thought he should and actually added pounds instead of losing them. “I went from 162 pounds up to 204,” he says. “It was very depressing.”

Gaining weight after quitting smoking is not uncommon and at a subsequent visit to his doctor he began a regimen of exercise with the target of 180 pounds. He increased his distance on the treadmill from two to five miles and went to the gym six days a week. “I now had another New Year’s resolution,” he says, “and dedicated myself to achieving it.” He finally hit his goal and has worked hard to maintain a steady weight. “It’s an ongoing process, not one that you can ever take for granted,” he says.

This year, he says he was inspired by the Truckers News Health Heroes series and was determined to lose the extra pounds that had piled on again. “On Jan. 1, 2008, I set the goal to get back to 180 pounds,” he says. “Once again, I changed my diet and amped up the exercise routine.” He cut out junk food and began each day with a 5-mile power walk on the treadmill. He went from walking 5 miles in 65 minutes to running the same distance in a new personal best: 44 minutes, 39 seconds. When he stepped on the scale six weeks later, he was shocked to see he’d lost 14 pounds and was only three shy of his ideal weight.

“I lost those pounds and hope to never find them again,” says the trucker who signs his emails with the directive “Have a great, healthy, active day.”

Personal: A company driver for Ceva since 1994, Gary Kujak drives to Lebanon, Ohio, to pick up auto parts, round trip: 455 miles daily.

What exercise tips would you give to truckers? Consider joining a gym and then go! I like to run on the treadmill but I started off only walking short distances. Gradually, I increased the power-walking speeds to 4 and 4.5 miles per hour. I also use hand weights and leg weights along with exercise straps and hand springs.

How has your health improved? I feel better both physically and mentally. I’ve got more energy and a better outlook.

How did you change your diet? I now keep fruit and vegetables in the cab and eat those instead of sugary, high-calorie snacks. I also drink lots of water and choose smaller portions of food.

What’s your favorite motto? I always like to say, “Making a positive difference in the world begins with you – please step forward.” Another one is: “Building bridges creates endless opportunities.”

What would you tell a trucker who wants to get healthy? Start today. Set a goal and then just begin. If you can get rid of a bad health habit like smoking, do that at the same time. Use your free time to begin a walking program.

What’s your next health goal? I want to keep running and improving my time and distance.

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.

Ask the Experts
Health Question of the Month:

I am a 55-year-old driver for a household moving company. I do a lot of heavy lifting and am experiencing joint and lower back pain. I have some arthritis as well. What do you suggest I do to help my aches and pains?
– Earl from Omaha, Neb.

Pam Whitfield is a Chicago-based registered dietician.

As we age, many of us experience joint pain and arthritis. But weight can play a big role, too. Are you carrying excess baggage? If so, you’re not alone: 86 percent of drivers are overweight. And that means you’re asking your bones and joints to support more than they bargained for.

There are 3,500 calories in a pound, so if you can trim 500 calories a day, you’ll lose a pound each week. Have one sandwich instead of two at lunch. Change out a piece of cake for a piece of fruit for dessert. Have fat-free yogurt instead of a milk shake for a snack. Go with diet soda instead of high-test. Slow down when you eat. It takes the brain about 15 minutes to realize your mouth and stomach have been hard at work. Just putting the fork down between bites may help you moderate your timing and eat less. Most people need about 1,800-2,200 calories a day unless their physical activity is high. Keep a food diary to see how much you’re eating.

Many people with arthritis are also deficient in important nutrients like calcium and vitamins D and C. Choose no-fat/low-fat dairy and green veggies like broccoli to add calcium. Milk and fatty fish like salmon are great sources of vitamin D. For vitamin C, start with fruits and veggies. Start today. Your bones and joints will be saying thanks for years to come.

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

Pain is a complex subject and the needs of a driver are special when it comes to medication and therapy choice. Body aches and joint pains are two of the most common complaints seen by a physician. Most pains can be broken down into two groups: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Inflammatory arthritis is often genetic and includes the well-known rheumatoid variety. To treat it, you will initially use common over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen. As these cease to work or fail, you will need more advanced therapy. Most people, however, have non-inflammatory arthritis. This is better known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Your starting point is over-the-counter acetaminophen, with occasional use of drugs like naproxen. Beyond this, you will need to see your physician for a complete evaluation of your specific problem.

Always remember, though, that prevention is more valuable than treatment. Keep in good shape, exercise, use good lifting techniques and never overwork your muscles. Begin any new exercise program slowly, gradually increasing time, distance or weights. Gentle stretching can help keep joints flexible. Once you have destroyed the cushioning material in your joints or torn a muscle, the road to a full recovery is long.

Linda Dunn is a fitness expert from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

At age 55 there may be some wear and tear on your spine, and it is important to lift safely and protect your back. There are several types of arthritis, and mild exercise is usually recommended for most types. Since your occupation requires heavy lifting, it is important to strengthen your abdominals and back muscles. If possible, try to find a personal trainer or exercise instructor that can show you some appropriate exercises to build strength in your core muscles (abs, back, inner and outer thighs). Simple push-ups and sit-ups are a start. Also, get out and walk (build up to a good pace, 15 minutes a mile) for 20-30 minutes. That will increase your stamina for your daily activities and improve your heart health. If walking on land is not possible due to discomfort in your joints, consider swimming, water aerobics, or walking laps in a pool. The movement in the water is easier with arthritis because the joints and spine are cushioned and supported by the water’s buoyancy.

Finally, try to be sure you lift with the “back safety guidelines” that OSHA recommends for your occupation. Your employer should offer this information at your request. If lower back pain is a problem and continues, please consider seeing your physician.

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.

10 Ways You Can Protect Your Joints

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, with nearly 27 million Americans living with it today. No longer considered just a consequence of aging, researchers now have several candidates when looking for a cause: musculoskeletal defects, genetic defects, obesity or injury and overuse.

While you may not be able to control a genetic trait, there are some definite actions you can take to protect your joints and help prevent OA.

  1. Maintain your ideal body weight. The more you weigh, the more stress you are putting on your joints, especially your hips, knees, back and feet.
  2. Move your body. Exercise protects joints by strengthening the muscles around them. Strong muscles keep your joints from rubbing against one another, wearing down cartilage.
  3. Stand up straight. Good posture protects the joints in your neck, back, hips and knees.
  4. When lifting or carrying, use the largest and strongest joints and muscles. This will help you avoid injury and strain on your smaller joints.
  5. Alternate periods of heavy activity with periods of rest to pace yourself. Repetitive stress on joints for long periods of time can accelerate the wear and tear that causes OA.
  6. Listen to your body. If you are in pain, don’t ignore it. Pain after activity or exercise can be an indication that you have overstressed your joints.
  7. Don’t be static. Changing positions regularly will decrease the stiffness in your muscles and joints.
  8. Forget the weekend warrior. Don’t engage in activities for which your body isn’t prepared. Start new activities slowly and safely until you know how your body will react to them. This will reduce the chance of injury.
  9. Wear proper safety equipment. Don’t leave helmets and wrist pads at home. Make sure you get safety gear that is comfortable and fits appropriately.
  10. Ask for help. Don’t try to do a job that is too big for you to handle. Get another pair of hands to help out.