Fit for the Road

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Updated Sep 7, 2012

Breaking down the wall

Drivers wanting to implement healthier routines into a busy schedule need patience, perseverance and a little know-how


Ken Zelten had high cholesterol, and in May 2010, his doctor told him he had three options to bring it down — change his diet, take medication or start exercising. He doesn’t like taking medicine for various reasons, he says, and he thought exercise would be a bit easier to start than a full-on diet change.

When trying to balance a healthy lifestyle with a busy driving schedule, start by finding places to walk daily and by cutting down on high-carb and high-sugar foods.

“I didn’t want to get too complicated with my exercise,” he says. “So I just went to basically doing pushups and sit-ups,” things he could do on the road.

Then he picked up running, and “once I started running, the weight dropped off. I went from 211 pounds down to 180. Six months after that, I went in and had a health screening and my cholesterol was down 50 points.”

Like most drivers, Zelten, an owner-operator from Wisconsin, was challenged by the diet and exercise constraints that come with a full-time driving schedule. Running and walking, however, are quick and easy ways to start changing habits, he says.

“I didn’t invest a lot of money into it,” he says. I just bought a good pair of running shoes. All you have to do is step out of the truck, put on your shoes, and start walking or running.”

Dr. Ronald Rush of Highway Health Care in Texarkana, Texas, says drivers should find downtime at any point during the day to walk a few laps around truckstops or other parking lots or while waiting to deliver loads.

Changes in diet, Rush says, should be a primary focus from the beginning, too. “That’s the first thing they have to get under control,” he says, and he recommends moving toward a low-carb diet that weeds out sweet colas, crackers and other high-carbohydrate and high-sugar snacks.

“Those things produce an abundance of insulin secretion,” Rush says. “And that’s going to prevent them from burning any of their stored fat.” If cravings don’t go away, Rush says a tablespoon of peanut butter every few hours and plenty of water should curb appetites.

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Bob Perry, the Trucker Trainer and Rolling Strong president, says weight loss is “75 percent what you put in your mouth,” and drivers should prepare quality snacks and meals for the road before leaving.

Perry recommends walking “intensity,” he says. “Put your cell phone away. Stand up straight, and be conscious of your posture. Keep your stomach muscles as tight as you can and walk ahead with some intention.” Even if it’s only in five- or 10-minute increments, “it gets your mind relaxing and off of the job,” exercising your cardiovascular system.

Zelten says the most important thing with health is to simply start, “and start wherever you feel comfortable with starting.” Zelten runs about 15 miles a week now, he says, and makes time to run where he can on the road and at both ends of his weekly hauls from Wisconsin to California and back. He also says a few dozen jumping jacks works when nothing else will.

“When I started, I could only run about half of a block. It felt like a monkey on my chest,” he says. “Slowly but surely, you keep pushing on that wall, your body breaks down the wall and it gets easier and easier.”



Highway Health Care owner Dr. Ronald Rush says what drivers should concentrate on is saving 50 or 100 calories wherever possible and being able to burn 30 or 40 extra calories as often as they can. “If you add it up, it comes out to enough calories to lose weight and feel better,” he says. “You have to have reasonable goals. If you lose 3,500 calories, you’ve lost a pound …

Expend an additional 100 or 150 calories a day, and you’re looking at losing 10 pounds a year. If you can expend a couple hundred extra calories a day, you’re looking at 30 or 40 pounds a year.”

Here are a few quick ideas for cutting and expending extra calories:

• Take an 8 oz. bottle of ice water and drink it about six to eight times a day. Drink the whole thing within a few minutes. “Water being cold has to be heated by the body. The process of water being heated burns calories,” Rush says. “You can burn about 120 or 160 calories a day just doing that.”

• “Use your rig as a piece of equipment,” Trucker Trainer Bob Perry says. “Grab a hold on the side and use your pull bar as a balance bar and use your body to push yourself and step yourself up and back down.” Five to 10 repetitions will be enough, Perry says.

• Go for a brisk 15-minute walk. “That gets your heart rate up, and it stays with you throughout the day,” says Ken Zelten, an owner-operator from Wisconsin. “Even stretching in the morning stays with you.”

• There’s nothing better than building muscle in the upper arms, says Rush, and he recommends keeping 10- or 20-pound weights in your truck to do simple upper-body workouts at stops or during downtime. “Something most people aren’t aware of is how much muscle burns,” he says. “When you don’t even use a muscle, it burns calories all day.”

• Perry says stretching and being flexible are key to overall health and can also help alleviate the lower back pain common among drivers. An important stretch, he says, is to put feet shoulder-width apart, keep knees bent, take a deep breath and let your upper body fall forward naturally. “You need to get those hamstrings and those nerves stretched out, which causes the majority of leg and back issues with those starting new exercise programs.”

Be sure to visit for more information on weight loss, healthy recipes, information on health products and more.


Anytime, anywhere gyms

Squeezing exercise time into an over-the-road driving schedule is compounded by constraints of location and time away from home. National gym memberships make sense for drivers, and there are a few national chains, such as 24 Hour Fitness, that offer nationwide memberships.

Snap Fitness, a gym open 24 hours per day, has partnered with Bob Perry’s Rolling Strong to build gyms at Pilot Flying J stops around the country. For drivers, the membership costs $30 a month and provides access to the Snap Fitness Rolling Strong gyms and the other 1,300 Snap Fitness gyms worldwide. The first Rolling Strong gyms will open early next year.

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