New perspective

November Health Hero Richard Cooper

Ten years ago, Richard Cooper of Victoria, Texas, woke up one morning and decided he was tired of being overweight. At the time, he weighed 242 pounds and had just bumped up to a size 42 waist. He had no idea how to lose weight or start an exercise program. The research he found said he needed to cut calories and start moving. Good advice, but Cooper had been sedentary for a long time.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he says, “so I laced up my shoes and went for a jog.” The “jog” lasted the length of three houses. “I figured I was out of shape but had no idea how bad off I was,” Cooper says. Slowly, he added more distance to his morning jogs. At the same time, he joined forces with his wife to start eating healthier foods. His diet of Pop Tarts and buffet dinners had to go. “We made ourselves eat a small, nutritious breakfast, a light lunch and a healthy dinner,” he says. “It required changing just about everything we’d done before.”

After about a year, Cooper was down to 175 pounds, and he’s maintained that level ever since. Once he lost the bulk of his weight, he decided it was time to pursue a dream he’d always had: driving a big rig. He went to truck-driving school and signed on eight years ago with Hills Brothers. He’s been with them ever since.

His exercise routine is a vigorous one, and he credits his success at sticking with it to an inner discipline learned from a military school education. The hard work has paid off, and he recently bought a pair of size 36 pants. Now divorced, the 44-year-old driver says he’s evolved so much in his quest for a healthier lifestyle that he actually looks forward to waking up early for a workout. “It’s not just that I want to look good, but I want to continue feeling good,” he says.

Personal: Richard Cooper, age 44, single

Children: Brenna, 13, and Erica, 18

Handle: Spanky or Unca Spanky

What is your fitness regime? Wake up at 5 a.m. Do 50 crunches, 25 leg lifts and then run for 25 minutes followed by stretching, cool down and working out with weights. Finish with 150 push-ups.

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How did you change your eating habits? I switched from soda to water, from Pop Tarts to apples, fried chicken to broiled or grilled chicken. The biggest change was adding breakfast to my day. I also chew sugar-free gum all day.

What tip would you give a trucker who wants to start a diet? I’d tell him to keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat all day long. If you are like I was, you’ll be shocked at what you think you eat and what you really do eat. That gives you a baseline to start figuring out where to cut calories/fat/sodium. Get as much information as you can. There are all kinds of diets to choose from. I like to listen to Pam Whitfield on satellite radio. I got the food diary idea from her.

How do you manage to eat healthily at truckstops? I’ve made it my mission to talk to the managers at the truckstop restaurants. I’ve called all the major chains and asked them to consider stocking the menu with healthier food. It used to be hard to find fruit, but now you can pick up a few bananas or cut-up veggies at many of the chains. I just keep researching, asking questions, getting up to speed on the best food choices.

What’s your next goal? My one and only goal is to not regain the weight I lost.

Do you have a favorite motto? Well, I think about how I used to look and feel and I think, “I’ll never look like that again!”

Do you have a fitness tip you’d like to share? Wear a bright-colored T-shirt if you plan to walk or run around a truckstop. We are such a rare sight that truckers are not looking for us when they are parking their trucks!
–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.

Ask The Experts
Health Question of the Month:

My husband’s doctor said he could be at risk for deep vein thrombosis. What can he do to minimize his chances of getting this?
– Sarah from San Jose

Pam Whitfield is a Chicago-based registered dietician.

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep in the body and is frequently treated with medications like Coumadin. These drugs help thin the blood so clots don’t develop. The nutrition link here is that many of the foods we eat contain vitamin K, an important fat-soluble vitamin that helps our blood clot. (We need some level of clotting, of course, or we’d bleed to death with the smallest cut!) The key is to have a consistent amount of vitamin K foods each day so the Coumadin works the same, day in and day out. Some of the more common foods high in vitamin K are leafy green vegetables like spinach, asparagus, broccoli and greens. We also find a moderate amount of vitamin K in some fruits like berries and grapes. Spaghetti sauce and bread crumbs also may have a significant amount of vitamin K. A breakdown of the vitamin K content in foods is available at the USDA nutrient database ( You do not need to eliminate these foods from your diet. You simply should eat the same amounts of the vitamin each day so your medication will work as your doctor intends. Your doctor will schedule regular blood draws to check your clotting time and make sure it’s where it should be.

Many herbal supplements also can act as a blood thinner, so be sure to tell your doctor if you’re taking dietary supplements such as garlic, ginseng or ginger. They may increase the action of the drug, making your blood too thin. Alcohol can have a similar effect, as can some over-the-counter meds like aspirin. Keep your doctor in the loop and follow the directions you are given carefully.

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

DVT is a fairly common diagnosis, with more than a million cases a year in the U.S. alone. Blood clots usually are located in the legs. Significant risk factors include a history of congestive heart failure, leg or hip surgeries, varicose veins, use of oral contraceptives and prolonged inactivity. This last risk factor is particularly important to the driver on longer hauls, when the legs have essentially no movement. Unfortunately, in at least half the cases, there are no symptoms in the early stages of thrombosis development. Some of the more common signs or symptoms include a dull ache, tight feeling or pain in the leg; swelling also may be seen. A few practical tips to decrease your risk of DVTs are to make more frequent stops and to walk around the truckstop for five or ten minutes during every break. Try to do more exercise at the end of the day. Walk for 30 minutes to strengthen the leg muscles and improve fitness. Support stockings also may be helpful to improve circulation. Daily aspirin, at 81 to 325 mg, has also been shown to help. If you take oral contraceptives, are over 30 and smoke, you should give serious consideration to stopping both the smoking and the oral contraceptive. Beyond this you need to have a serious conversation with your doctor or a vascular specialist to limit your risk of this life-threatening medical issue.

Linda Dunn is a fitness expert from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Most DVTs occur in the lower leg or thigh. However, they also can occur in other parts of the body. A blood clot in a deep vein can break off and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, blocking blood flow. If you have any symptoms of a DVT you should see your physician immediately. Follow the treatment plan your doctor prescribes, stay active if possible and exercise your lower body muscles (legs particularly) during long trips. With your doctor’s permission, you may be able to do short walks and simple leg stretches to break up long road trips. Very often medication and compression stockings are recommended for treatment to prevent blood from pooling and clotting. Again, do not hesitate to seek a professional medical opinion if you feel you may have this condition. With proper treatment and your doctor’s permission, you should be able to begin a walking program or workout with a certified personal trainer to improve your health.

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.

Warning Signs for Deep Vein Thrombosis
Source: Mayo Clinic

It’s not uncommon for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) to occur with no symptoms. In fact, in about half of all cases, there are no noticeable symptoms.

When signs and symptoms of DVT do occur, they can include:

  • Swelling in the affected legs; this can include swelling in your ankles and feet.
  • Pain in your legs; this can include pain in your ankles and feet. This pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or a “charley horse.”
  • Redness and warmth over the affected area.
  • Pain or swelling in your arms or neck. This can occur if a blood clot forms in your arms or neck.

Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism warning signs
Sometimes the first sign of deep vein thrombosis can be the chest pain associated with a pulmonary embolism. If this is the case, seek medical help immediately. The warning signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort. This pain or discomfort usually gets worse when you take a deep breath or when you cough.
  • Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath. This is the most common symptom.
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • A sense of anxiety or nervousness.
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