One of the secrets to health on the road is to maintain an exercise regime.
Sutco Transportation has invested in plenty of equipment over the years, but one of the latest additions in the name of recruiting and retention has nothing to do with the trucks.
Tucked inside its facility in Kelowna, B.C., is a gym and meditation room that any employee can access around the clock.
“For energy levels, ability to do their job, [fighting] fatigue and all that – it’s so important,” says vice-president Doug Sutherland.
“Multiple trades kept saying to us, ‘Where do I apply? I’m going to go get my Class 1 to work for you guys,’” he adds, referring to those who were involved in the construction work. One employee of the moving company that helped the fleet relocate said that very thing, and is in the midst of training for a licence.
It’s just one example of the way health and wellness programs are emerging as a recruiting and retention tool. And no matter where a focus on healthy lifestyles begins, it seems to boost productivity and attitudes alike.
“Exercise has the same beneficial effect than almost anything a doctor or psychiatrist could prescribe you for depression,” says Alfy Meyer, a 66-year-old Brampton, Ont. driver who spent 39 years driving across North America. These days he only hauls the occasional load for film crews, but the focus on a healthy lifestyle remains.
According to Andrea Morley, nutritionist and health coach at Healthy Trucker in London, Ont., establishing a consistent pre-bedtime routine is the first step to a good night’s sleep. It could involve brushing your teeth and then reading a book for 10 minutes or watching 15 minutes of a TV show.
“If you do the same things, it signals your body each night to wind down for sleep,” she says.
Meyer advises to do everything possible to go to bed at the same time you would at home. Route planning will help, especially when it comes to finding the all-important parking space. “Most truck stops now are filling up long before 7 o’clock,” he says. Meyer finds that showering in the morning also helps to avoid evening lineups and make the most of available rest time.
Once settling in, use every available curtain to block light and create a dark sleeping environment, Morley says. This could include aftermarket curtains to block the windshield and windows rather than simply drawing a sleeper compartment’s curtain, creating the largest-possible space in the process. Sleep masks can block any remaining light.
Then there’s the matter of enhancing the mattress that comes with the truck.
“Chances are, you’re not being paired up with the exact mattress that you need,” Morley says, recommending a foam topper or an upgraded mattress.
Since silence can be tough to find around other trucks, using a fan or other sources of white noise can help create a comfortable environment. There are actually white noise smartphone apps, Morley says. Earplugs are another option if the noise continues to be bothersome.
It can also be a good idea to bring your own sheets, blankets and pillows from home. Just the familiar smell of your own bedding can be soothing. “Nobody sleeps well in a hotel, and when you’re sleeping in a truck five nights a week, it’s basically like sleeping in a hotel,” Morley says.
If finding a restful night continues to be tough, keeping a sleep journal can help to identify problematic patterns.
Six to eight hours of sleep is a minimum, says Meyer. It’s one of the reasons he supports the stricter enforcement of hours of service through electronic logging devices. With that, drivers won’t feel as much pressure to cut into their sleeping hours, he says.
A light meal before bedtime will help, too. “Nothing that sits heavy in your stomach,” Meyer says.
Not all trucking companies allow drivers to cook inside their trucks, because of possible lingering smells and cleanliness issues. But those who have the option can easily prepare healthy options.
The choices of food for the sleeper’s fridge will make a difference. Rectangular containers will optimize the available space, while Morley also recommends stocking fruits and vegetables when possible.
“Things like canned tomatoes are awesome because they’re really versatile. They can be thrown in so many different types of dishes,” she says Apples and bananas also are healthy choices that can be kept at room temperature.
If you are crossing the border, however, remember that lots of foods can’t be moved from one country to the other. The enforcement of such rules can be inconsistent, so Morley suggests that those who always use the same port of entry should ask for a list of allowed foods.
Essential onboard appliances to prepare the foods include a portable rice cooker that can be used to cook almost anything, and a hot plate, Morley says.
Meyer pleads for a quality microwave oven on top of that.
“Say you want to cook a jambalaya with sausage and chicken and rice and tomatoes. You can easily do that in a rice cooker and that will take about 20 to 30 minutes,” Morley says. Even the compact rice cookers make it possible to prepare a couple of servings at a time.
Breakfast should be the most consistent meal of a driver’s day. It could be whole grain cereal with berries, bananas or honey in it; hard-boiled eggs brought from home; or microwaved eggs.
“I always recommend fruit as a snack for when you need energy because it will give you that boost of carbohydrates that your body and brain need to function. We want drivers to be focused, safe, alert and awake on the road, so fruit is a great option,” Morley says. They can be used to prepare quick, tasty smoothies, for example. Granola bars are another healthy option for a snack.
A driver can still eat meat, though. “Go ahead and eat meat, but don’t become a pig. Four to six ounces, whether it’s pork, beef or chicken,” Meyer advises, adding that a kitchen scale can be used at home when preparing portions for the road.
Nuts of all kinds are also recommended, especially if they’re not salted, but processed foods such as cold cuts should be avoided. The numerous additives in them are particularly hard on the liver and kidneys. Sugary cereals, bagels and muffins should also be in the “no-no” category, Morley believes. “They don’t offer a lot of nutritional value. They will spike your blood sugar in a bad way and then your blood sugar will fall very quickly and you’ll become very tired and hungry after an hour or two versus something like fruit that will sustain you for a little bit longer.”
The last meal of the day should be the lightest. Both Meyer and Morley suggest opening a small can of salmon, tuna or sardines or tossing a salad with vegetables that are available. Soup can also be a comforting alternative for dinner, too.
Any form of caffeine – including energy drinks – is to be avoided, just like alcohol. Water, milk or green tea before going to sleep are healthier options, Meyer says.
Exercise also remains one of the best ways to digest food and ensure proper sleep.
“Drivers are sedentary, they don’t get a lot of activity in their day-to-day routine,” Morley says.
Walking around truck stops and simple body weight workouts are recommended. “That’s a good way for drivers to improve their strength and challenge their muscles while they’re on the road,” Morley says. Many truckers also carry a bicycle, which is also a good exercise.
Jogging, which puts stress on the knees and hips, may not be the greatest idea in a trade where the body already bounces around all day in the cab.
Meyer has joint issues himself and enjoys a swim whenever he can. “If you’re not a swimmer, go in the shallow end and just walk against the water for 30-35 minutes,” he says, referring to the low-impact exercise.
Stretching is also crucial to warm up muscles before physical activity, but it’s also a great way to improve blood flow and increase alertness, which translates into improved safety behind the wheel.
One easy stretch involves sitting on the bunk and stretching one leg out across the mattress. Then reach down along the leg until you feel a comfortable amount of stretching in the back or thigh while keeping the knee straight. An added advantage to stretching is that it will relieve tension in the torso and arms after long periods at the wheel, too.
Meyer certainly warns against the bad posture that can lead to neck pain. Keeping your right hand on a vibrating stick shift can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrist, he says. A quality seat with armrests and lumbar and lateral support will help to address both issues.
There are plenty of miles ahead. Healthy miles are the goal.