Truck drivers in today’s industry often find themselves easily gaining weight, likely due to few opportunities to exercise and find healthy food options while sitting behind the wheel for hours on end.
Because of this, the obesity rates of truckers have been at least two times higher than those of the general population for the last nine years, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s 2010 study.
Truckers who face obesity are also at a much higher risk of multiple health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, to name a few.
In response, a wellness movement has been increasing in momentum and is working toward improving truck driver health. The biggest obstacle, however, is educating and motivating drivers to strive for a healthier lifestyle, even while working.
Longhaul trucker Siphiwe Baleka, who has struggled with extreme weight gain himself, now owns a company called Fitness Trucking–a program which offers resources on driver health, as well as its own fitness regimes.
Baleka had been physically fit during his entire young adult life, and was even a world-class swimmer in his college years. The health risks of the industry took their toll on him, though, and he gained over 10% of his body weight within the first two months of his trucking career.
“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see I could be 100 pounds overweight in three years; I didn’t want to end up like that.” Baleka said.
During his struggle, he attempted many different fitness plans, and when nothing worked, he began researching and developing his own methods–thus leading to what Fitness Trucking is today. Currently, the company’s most popular plan is its 13 Week Program.
“We teach the drivers how to turn their fat-burning system on before they start their [shifts] by doing a workout that is 15 minutes or less,” he explained. “[The workout] doesn’t require any equipment [and] can be done in the shower, inside or outside of the truck, or anywhere with two feet of space.”
In regards to food, drivers in the program maintain a nutrition log, but according to Baleka, drivers do not need to completely change their diets.
“We’ll show a driver how to keep eating at the truck stops and fast-food places, but make strategic and effective changes and substitutions to lose weight.”
The program lasts for 13 weeks of coaching until drivers are able to internalize the system’s values and develop lasting new health habits.
The program also offers the 4 Minute Fit technique, a method based on data showing that it only takes four minutes to get your natural fat-burning system working.
“[The objective] is to instill in the driver the habit of turning their metabolism on before they start driving and keeping it on while driving,” said Baleka. Then, after drivers’ metabolism is going strong, they need to eat protein every three hours.
In addition to online resources like this, truck stops are also currently working to provide better nutrition and movement options for the truckers who visit.
For example, TravelCenters of America has implemented its StayFit program for about a decade. The program offers 61 indoor fitness rooms, 171 walking-trail maps, and medical facilities at 24 locations, as well as basketball courts, beanbag toss games, and horseshoe pits. These resources are in place across 260 different locations.
“The drivers who are active love them. Some organize walks, some ride bikes, others use our facilities on a regular basis,” said Tom Liukus, senior vice president of marketing at TA. The company also marks 77 of its packaged goods with StayFit’s label.
Some on-site restaurants at truck stops have also been offering healthier items, and Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores has been providing fresh fruit at its 500-plus stores in response to the movement.
“There is no question that drivers are looking for healthier choices and things they can take in the truck and eat easily,” said Whit Harson, senior manager of Love’s category management and deli. Love’s also offers fresh salads and protein-heavy to-go items now, as well.
“Not only is health and fitness an achievable goal for the truck driver population as a whole, we know exactly what to do and how to transform the industry already,” said Fitness Trucking’s Baleka. “We have to change the values of the drivers or increase how much they value their health and staying fit.”