by Rolf Lockwood, with Bette Garber
Maybe the last thing anybody wants is advice he didn't ask for. Especially health advice. And who am I to give it anyway? I smoke, I eat donuts and fries, I drink way too much coffee. And since my faithful old retriever and best buddy bit the dust a couple of months ago, the long midnight walks are gone, so I don't get a lot of exercise either. Unless you count the frequent hikes from the Durango to Tim Horton's door.
The thing is, this so-called lifestyle of mine shows. And chances are, a lot of you are in the same boat.
So when we had a letter from Alberta's Keith Stevens warning about the dangers of poor eating habits on the road - he's suffering for those habits now - I got to thinking that maybe it was time to re-visit the subject of healthy eating. Even if you folks hadn't asked for it. We originally intended the 'Trucking 202' banner to cover things like compliance issues, but after a little thought we realized that it should really deal with all manner of educational matters. Health among them.
So with the help of our American colleague Bette Garber from RoadSTAR magazine, here's a look at several aspects of healthy living on the road.
Focus On Food
You really can maintain a healthy lifestyle as a trucker. It starts with the food you eat and the exercise you get, and yes, it's a daily battle. But not complicated.
One owner-operator we know lost 50 lb in eight months. Like him, eating smarter probably means limiting yourself to one big meal a day, likely in the early afternoon. He eats mainly lean meats, vegetables and fruits. He also takes vitamins and he never eats before going to bed. He makes opportunities to walk or run, usually by parking far back on truckstop lots. He drinks a lot of water, which is actually one of the best single approaches to health.
Considering the daily food temptations that he faces - like every other driver - his weight loss is all the more remarkable.
The principles of eating healthier are simple: consume smaller portions, cut out fats, eat more fruits and vegetables, limit proteins, drink water, take vitamin and mineral supplements.
But saying and doing are two different animals when it comes to healthy eating in a trucker's world.
"You need the willpower of God," one driver quipped.
He could have been referring to the seductive scent of gigantic cinnamon buns that greet some travel plaza patrons. Or the aroma of mocha cappuccino, sold alongside the buns and served with a three-inch tower of whipped cream that adds 100 calories and 7 grams of fat to the brew all by itself.
Let's not forget the fresh candy and ice cream counters, fried chicken and hamburger franchises, steaks so big they hang off the plate, bountiful buffets, pizzas to go, and snacks loaded with salt, fat and sugar. Truckstop menus are top-heavy with such choices, so is it any wonder the pounds pack on?
But things are changing. Drivers advancing into middle age bear their doctors' marching orders to unload years of accumulated fat. They're asking for healthier alternatives and truckstops are responding, offering far more healthy food options than just a few years ago.
At numerous Flying J Travel Centers C-stores, for example, weight-watching truckers can find fresh veggies packed with low-fat dip, fresh fruit salads - sometimes topped with a dollop of cottage cheese - and a variety of fresh green salads. The C-store manager at one Flying J told us healthy food choices in the refrigerated case are changed out every two hours to guarantee freshness.
Are they popular? "If they weren't, we wouldn't be carrying them," he said. "We have them because the drivers ask for them."
Many drivers now carry coolers or have built-in refrigerators, making it possible to store low-fat, low-calorie items for on-board sandwiches and snacks like cold cuts, low-fat cheese, yogurt, salad and fruits.
Finding decent fresh produce choices in truckstop stores used to be difficult. Not any more.
A truckstop waitress confided her longing to tell overweight customers loading up on fats at the breakfast buffet, "Don't you know how bad the [fried food] is for you? Why don't you try eating something healthy?"
Alternatives were available there, like a healthy breakfast combo of fresh fruits, an egg-white veggie omelette and wheat toast. But it was offered at the bottom of a menu page filled with fattening omelettes and meat/egg choices.
If you decide to try improving your diet, why not start by hauling around your own snacks? Pack your own water supply in sports bottles along with a bag of apples, low-fat cookies, high-fiber crackers, raisins and maybe some peanut butter. Plain boiled eggs and yogurt, readily available if you don't bring your own, can supplement the snacks and stave off the pressing hunger that leads to over-eating.
Sit and drive, sit and eat, eat then sleep. Trucking's sedentary routines make it all the more important to overcome inertia and get moving.
Five More Ideas to Get You Moving
1. Look upon dead time, like sitting by the dock of a loading bay, as an opportunity to get out of the truck and ...walk ...run ...roller skate ...jump rope ...ride a bike. Use the time to your advantage.
2. Try running and jogging with your dog instead of strolling.
3. Pull out your resistance tubing and do a full stretching/resistance routine.
4. Raining? Throw a 'walking' exercise video into the VCR.
5. Park at a mall, lace on your sneakers, and take a brisk walk inside. Use stairs to climb to the second level if there is one and make another circuit.
Being overweight in a sedentary job can lead to serious health concerns. Research points to obesity as a factor in heart disease, high blood pressure, back pain, fatigue, sleep apnea and even deep vein thrombosis - potentially lethal blood clots in the legs caused by poor circulation. Additionally, anyone with a genetic propensity to diabetes increases their chances of developing adult-onset Type 2 diabetes if they're overweight.
The weight just has to come off and only a combination of calorie counting and exercise can do it. These days there are many ways to add aerobic and resistance activity to daily routines, like simple bike riding.
Easiest way to launch aerobic training? Take a brisk walk, an effective way to strengthen the heart and burn calories. And as an alternative to watching TV or goofing off in a truckstop games room, it might even pick up your spirits. Exercise is the key to losing weight, not reducing food intake alone.
Some folks go running, but that's definitely not for everyone. And if you're middle-aged and very unfit to begin with, it could conceivably be dangerous. Not to mention being hard on the joints. But walking? Anybody can do that, and if one driver's experience is any indication, it can work - in six months he dropped 25 lb and two pants sizes.
Where can you walk? Just about anywhere in the environs of the truckstops where you pull in for a meal or a rest. Sometimes it might just be along sidewalks and local streets, but if you find a truckstop in the boonies, you might also find some pleasant country lanes not too far away. If you look.
Combined with eating more sensibly - like choosing pretzels over chips, fruit instead of a jelly donut - a long walk several times a week will do wonders. Think in terms of an hour out and an hour back, depending on the time you have and the terrain.
Bike riding is another exercise option many drivers have taken up. Fueling the two-wheeled renaissance are foldable compact or full-size bicycles that fit easily into a bunk or the passenger seat footwell. Any good bike shop will be able to help you find one, but one example that's said to be popular with truckers is the Dahon Speed P8. It's made of light chromoly steel, weighs less than 25 lb, and can support up to 230 lb. It folds down, in just 15 seconds, to 11x22x32 inches, though at US$369.95 it's not cheap. Then again, folders go up to US$1800! To have a look at what's available before you go shopping, log on to www.betterbicycleco.com.
On the other hand, you can also dig out that rusted hulk that's been sitting in your shed for years, spruce it up a little with some oil and new rubber for just a few bucks, and then lash it to your headache rack or wherever else you can find. Might look a little less 'preppie' than a folder while still delivering the exercise goods.
There's no shortage of books on the subject of health, but you'll find some especially good tips for eating and exercising on the road in a handy little book by travel fitness guru Dr. Joanne V. Lichten - How To Stay Healthy & Fit on the Road (see sidebar).It's written for business travelers and it's loaded with helpful tips and information, much of it useful to the trucking lifestyle.
Dr. Jo, as she likes to be called, recommends aerobic exercise to condition the heart, resistance exercise to strength muscles, and stretches to improve flexibility. Her book offers simple exercises that can be done in a motel room, truckstop shower, or in a rest area.
She recommends stretchy rubber training tubes, also called toning bands, for resistance exercises. The tubes have padded handles, are easily adjustable, and provide excellent resistance when performing squats, lunges, bicep curls and tricep overhead extensions.
12 'First Steps' to Cutting Calories
Try these easy "first steps" from Dr. Joanne Lichten's book, How To Stay Healthy and Fit On The Road.
1. Calm sugar cravings with a long-lasting 'jawbreaker' or lollipop.
2. Drink your coffee black (flavored creamers have 40 calories/ 2 grams of fat per tablespoon).
3. Downsize fries order to small.
4. Downsize portions generally. Ask for a 'doggie bag' right away and put a portion of food out of sight.
5. Order steamed vegetables as a side dish instead of mashed potatoes.
6. Ask for (fat free) salad dressing, mayo, butter on the side.
7. Keep protein servings to the size of a deck of cards (about 3 oz.).
8. Eat baked, roasted and grilled meat and fish more often than fried or breaded.
9. Don't rule out dessert. Split it with someone and enjoy.
10. Leave at least one bite of everything on your plate.
11. Choose egg substitute and low-fat milk.
12. Instead of a Coke, drink unsweetened iced tea, fruit juice, diet soda or plain water.
Dr. Jo's book also offers tips for cutting calories in Chinese, Mexican and Italian foods as well as lots of 'eating on the road' menus. The book can be found at bookstores and at www.DrJo.com.
Alleviating stress is important to improving both your physical and mental health, and just about any kind of active exercise can help alleviate daily stress buildup. Quiet time and meditation also work. Or do something special for yourself, to take your mind off whatever is stressing you. Catch a movie - many truckstops offer them now. Stop for an ice-cream cone (low-fat, of course). Make a foray into one of those roadside museums or tourist attractions. Stop to read a historic marker, stretch, breathe deeply and appreciate the moment.
A good night's sleep should be a real priority because it too affects all-around health and mental well-being. Check out an audio tape, Bed-Time Yoga, a series of simple stretch yoga moves that will relax you, relieve stress, and foster sleep. A companion tape, In-Flight Yoga, offers easy stretch exercises that can be done in the passenger's seat or the bunk. They're available at www.bodytrends.com, but again, there's no shortage of such tapes at bookstores and elsewhere.
Dr. Jo suggests eating a dinner high in carbs, what she calls "nature's sedatives" - things like noodles, rice, potatoes. However, going to sleep after a heavy meal is a bad idea, she cautions. It's a sure-fire way to build fat around the middle and can make you uncomfortable enough to prevent a sound sleep.
In addition, if you're overweight and not sleeping soundly, you may want to consider being checked for disorders like sleep apnea. It's extremely common, and truck drivers seem to be especially vulnerable.
A lot of this advice is really just plain common sense. We all know what we should be eating, how much we should be exercising, how much sleep we should get. The tough part isn't the knowing; it's always in the doing.