ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Studies show that truck drivers have a life expectancy 12 to 15 years lower than the average population, mostly due to poor diet and a lack of exercise.
Speaking during a health and safety series put on by SafetyDriven, the Trucking Safety Council of B.C., dietitian Diana Steele said implementing a healthy diet is not about cutting out everything you enjoy eating, but rather employing the 80/20 rule, where you make healthy choices 80% of the time and indulge for the remaining 20%.
Steele said truck drivers face unique challenges when it comes to eating healthy and getting enough exercise due the nature of their occupation, which often involves overnight stays in a sleeper, eating on the road, isolation, prolonged sitting, a lack of sleep, long work hours, irregular physical activity, and having to put up with excessive noise and vibration.
These work conditions can lead to bad habits, such as choosing fast food, eating comfort foods, consuming large meals, excessive caffeine, and lower quality foods, and eating to prevent sleeping or boredom.
Making poor food choices and ignoring exercise results in several adverse health issues, like digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome, weight gain, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and various forms of cancer.
“The good thing about this list is the every single item on there has modifiable risk factors,” said Steele.
Steele said studies show that 70% of truck drivers are not getting even half the amount of fruits and vegetables required to maintain a healthy diet. She added that fiber is also lacking in truckers’ diets, and that men need 38 grams of fiber a day, women 25 grams.
Steele also said recent studies in the U.S. reveal that the main culprit in obesity is sugar-sweetened beverages, and drivers should instead drink water to stay hydrated, which is vital for maintaining quality health and alertness.
Eating in regular intervals – every three to four hours – is one way to help sustain your metabolism, and Steele said “stocking your rig with snacks” is a good way to achieve this goal.
“If you can pack food from home, it’s obviously going to make things easier,” she said.
Snacks like Cliff bars, trail mix, canned tuna, peanut butter, water bottles, apple sauce and canned fruit are good items to start with. For more hearty meals, sandwiches, wraps, chili, stews, curry, bean soup, and spaghetti are quality choices to avoid having to resort to restaurant food.
“I’m a big believer in bringing something from home to add to your meal,” she said.
When eating at truck stops, Steele advised drivers to fill half their plate with vegetables, one quarter with protein and the other quarter with a starch.
As for physical activity, anything is better than nothing.
Even 15 minutes of exercise, stretching or moderate activity can make a difference, as it reduces fatigue, brings oxygen to the brain, improves strength, and relieves back pain, something many drivers experience.
Steele said everyone should choose a health goal, one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
But in the end, it’s up to each individual to make healthy choices.
“There’s no nutrition police,” Steele said, “so you need to make these decisions on your own.”
Getting to safety’s COR
A panel of four discussed the importance and benefits of the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program and how companies can create a more safety-focused culture.
Earl Galavan, COR manager for SafetyDriven, said the certification has been in place in B.C. for about 14 years, with SafetyDriven actively developing its program since 2010.
“We will deal with a company any way they need to be dealt with,” Galavan said. “We will help them.”
Galavan said the program is not about finding what’s wrong with a company, but rather discovering ways to help make it as successful as possible.
Colette Mondin of Inland Kenworth said her company was not nearly as safety focused prior to starting the COR program than it is now.
“We did the compliance stuff, we did the inspections,” Mondin said, adding that in order for any company to be successful it must first have its managers buy into the process.
“There is an excitement when you pass it,” she said of the program, “but it gets better and better.”
The COR program encourages employers to create an occupational health and safety management system that reaches beyond compliance.
Galavan said it depends on the company and how much it wants to put into the program as to how long it takes to achieve COR status.
In addition be to being a safer workplace, COR certified companies enjoy a competitive advantage and financial savings.
From bottom to top
Opening the health and safety series was ex-CFL football player Shea Emry, who chronicled his life from his days on the field to when he suffered a concussion in 2011 and was two steps away from ending his life.
Emry said it was then that he realized he had to become a better man, and he knew he wanted to be a father.
Emry said everyone, including truck drivers, must take their passion with them, whether it be on the road or elsewhere, and discover who they really are, shedding any stereotypes that may be attached to them.
Emry has launched Wellmen to help and encourage like-minded men congregate around ideas, environments, and experiences that he believes many have lost touch with.
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