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By on March 1, 2018

What Can You Do to Help Yourself?


Since 1989, I’ve examined and cared for thousands of truck drivers as a physician and a DOT examiner. Apologies to those drivers who were my first exam “victims,” for having them do jumping jacks and pushups. Very few had medical issues back then, and virtually all saw a doctor two to three times a year. As time passed and FMCSA regulations became more complex, I noticed a change in truckers. In the mid to late 90s, I began seeing a different driver with a different body configuration and different health issues. Diversity in the form of more female drivers and ethnic groups resulted in their own unique health issues.

As attitudes about personal health changed, most drivers still had a doctor relationship, but more started saying, “I just don’t have time to see my doctor.” In 2002, I began visiting truck stops on my own, both locally in Knoxville, Tennessee and during out-of-state travels. By 2006, it became very apparent that I didn’t have to travel to foreign countries to save lives. Rather, I could go to any truck stop. That begged the question: what happened to the truckers who could do jumping jacks and pushups, and had doctors they could see when they were home?

Anyone, including a trucker, who has periods of prolonged sitting, is at higher risk
for all-cause mortality.

Heightened Problem Awareness

In the fall of 2006, two things happened. A team of folks started PDMD (professional driver medical depots), and the St. Christopher Fund (SCF) was launched with the help of TA-Petro, OOIDA and Nemo Radio. SCF survived the 2009-10 Great Recession, and I became its Medical Director, responsible for reviewing charts of sick and dying truck drivers who needed financial help with rent, medications and other bills including truck payments. My job as SCF Medical Director has sensitized me to the many big problems truckers face. They continue to become seriously ill in greater numbers and often become completely incapacitated with too many passing away too soon. The question is WHY?

Well, our friends at the American College of Physicians published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine on September 12, 2017 entitled “Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults.” The take-home pearl from my review of this epic research by Dr. Howard Ciaz showed that prolonged stretches of sitting, as well as total sitting time significantly increase all-cause mortality rates. That basically describes the day of an OTR trucker.

Observations Over Time

Anyone, including a trucker, who has periods of prolonged sitting, is at higher risk for all-cause mortality. Most who fall into this category are usually older, diabetic, hypertensive, and/or obese. There are ethnic differences, but this description describes the life of a trucker to a T. I have witnessed the transformation of the driver population away from the more active, stronger, and healthier pre-1990 driver. This has occurred slowly but steadily as I observed drivers coming and going at truck stops around the country. Driving careers and lives have become noticeably shorter.

Although not entirely sure why this has happened, it’s fair to identify several contributing factors such as video games, TV, air conditioning, poor eating habits, and industry over regulation. OOIDA, NASTC, and others have been fighting for better hours of service (HOS). This would provide a great start. Regardless, better access to 24/7 health consultation and treatment for drivers via in-cab telehealth and mini telehealth capabilities at terminals and truck stops would also help. We need to find ways to offset the long hours of total sitting time in a truck cab.

Preventive Maintenance

What can you do now to soften the impact of sitting in the driver’s seat for 10 or 11 hours every day? The old standard for improved health and mood used to be 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. This is simply not enough. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take walking breaks. Shoot for 10,000 steps everyday.
  • Stretch your legs or stand up every 30-40 minutes.
  • Stand up 16 times a day for at least two minutes each time.
  • As often as you can, stretch your wrists, roll your shoulders, and lift your feet.
  • When sitting, sit up straight.
  • Flex, stretch, and relax all your major muscle groups once an hour.

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I do know OTR drivers suffer medically more than any profession I’ve seen during my medical career. When it comes to personal health, it’s time to make a change. OTR drivers, carriers and organizations must emphasize and make time for preventive maintenance. For now, learn what Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) means to your health! Understand that a person’s physical activity is a continuum of good quality sleep, minimal sitting, and moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Health conditions and risk factors cannot be easily erased, but they can be greatly diminished with regular participation in an MVPA program in conjunction with smoking cessation, obesity elimination, and access to healthcare in a real-time manner. God bless truckers. To learn more, go to docjmd.com.

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