[Skip to Content]

Hormones, Schmormones!

By on September 1, 2017


By: Siphiwe Baleka, Founder, Fitness Trucking

Over the past few years, my RoadKing articles have primarily focused on physical health and helping drivers lose weight. To accomplish that, I often talk about metabolism, which is regulated by hormones, primarily serum leptin and serum ghrelin. They involve a hormonal change that very few male drivers are even aware of, much less talk about.

When an OTR driver’s schedule constantly changes, the circadian rhythms and the production of leptin and ghrelin are disrupted. Consequently, the driver’s metabolism ceases to function properly, quite often leading to weight gain. The remedy: turning your metabolism on before you start driving by moving with maximum intensity for just four minutes, and then keeping the metabolism on by eating some form of protein every three hours.

Secondary Problem

Understanding that hormonal changes can be at the root of obesity problems helped me design a nutrition-and-fitness program that addresses the real issues—hormones.

Similarly, a second hormonal problem is at the root of another health issue affecting some truck drivers—mental health. Let’s face it; some drivers spend hours, days, weeks, even months on the road inside their cabs. This solitary environment often produces feelings of loneliness. Drivers can go entire days without any real human interaction and weeks, even months, without physical contact with another person. This can affect the driver’s sense of wellbeing.

On March 25, 2009, the New York Times stated, “loneliness leads to poorer physical and mental health.” On January 31, 2011 the BBC pronounced loneliness as a “hidden killer.” Groundbreaking research by Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad, of Brigham Young University, revealed an association between loneliness and mortality risk. She equated acute loneliness with smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic. A later study documented that loneliness can also surpass health risks associated with obesity!

“Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet,” said Tim Smith, co-author of the study. “With loneliness on the rise, we’re predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.” Dr. Holt-Lunstad added, “Physicians, health professionals, educators and the public media take risk factors, such as smoking, diet and exercise seriously. The data presented here make a compelling case for social relationship factors to be added to that list.”

Connecting Loneliness
to Hormones

Physical isolation and non-contact with other humans deprives the largest organ of your body—skin—from being touched. The lack of touch or pressure on the skin means that the pressure receptors called “Pacinian corpuscles” are not stimulated. When these receptors are stimulated, it sends a signal deep into the brain to the vagus nerve. It then spreads out throughout the body to several internal organs, including the heart, which slows down and blood pressure decreases. This is a very good thing when you happen to be stressed.

Even with a simple handshake or a hand on a shoulder, the electrical activity of neurons in the hypothalamus part of the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin into the bloodstream and other parts of the brain where it binds to oxytocin receptors that influence behavior and physiology. According to Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University, “Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding.”

The implications of all this cannot be overstated when it comes to truck drivers. For drivers who are working, living and sleeping in their cabs, they may go extended periods of time without human contact. Drivers may feel less connected to the world, less trusting, and less motivated. This form of isolation can create “oxytocin deprivation” in the same way that lack of sleep creates accumulated “sleep deprivation.”

To combat the oxytocin deprivation, the benefits of therapeutic massage at least once a month should be considered as both a business expense and health insurance. “The notion that massage is ‘just an indulgence’ is antiquated,” says Brent A. Bauer, M.D., director of the complementary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “There are over 1,000 studies and published reports that offer scientific evidence on the health effects of massage therapy. There are certainly direct effects like changes that happen at the muscle level and pain pathways and a reduction in stress hormones, such as cortisol. But there are also indirect effects like being in a comfortable setting and a compassionate human presence that can all lead to profound effects on our stress levels and emotional state.”

Given that researchers are now saying that isolation and loneliness are risk factors that rank high for premature death along with smoking, alcoholism and obesity, anyone concerned with the health and welfare of truck drivers should address the topic of loneliness.


About Road King

For the professional Driver

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *