Bob Perry has been trying to help drivers be healthier for about 25 years, but he was way ahead of the curve. It's only in the past couple of years that the industry has embraced the notion that healthier drivers are safer, happier and more productive.
As part of his Rolling Strong Driver Wellness Tour, Bob Perry rolls a truck tire 7 miles and invites drivers to walk along.
As part of his Rolling Strong Driver Wellness Tour, Bob Perry rolls a truck tire 7 miles and invites drivers to walk along.

The increased interest has allowed Perry, "The Trucker Trainer," and his Rolling Strong trucker fitness business to team up with companies such as Snap Fitness, Pilot Flying J and Freightliner to develop products and programs aimed at driver health.

We talked to Perry about his mission.

HDT: How did you get into the business of trying to help truckers be healthy?

My dad was a driver for 50 years, and when he retired from trucking, he got the [full package of healthcare problems]: sleep apnea, [high blood] sugar, high blood pressure, cholesterol; he had it all, and those things have a direct effect on your quality of life. Two [of my] brothers are still professional drivers today.

I drove for a very short time, as everybody in our family was expected to, but I told my dad this was not what I wanted to do. So I spent my career in the healthcare wellness arena.

I started about 25 years ago trying to open up fitness facilities at travel centers, but I was way too far ahead of the curve. Even today, when you're talking to people about a truck driver working out, they sometimes look at you like you've got three heads. It's really a culture change in this industry.

HDT: If a fleet doesn't have a budget for driver wellness, where can they start?

We have content they can put in their driver newsletters. That's where it starts, just basic education. For instance, most drivers are sports fanatics, and they think all these sports drinks are healthy. They don't realize how sugar-loaded these things are. These drivers aren't expending that kind of energy, they're not playing football or in a racecar. They can't take in that kind of calorie intake each day.

We've got cooler clings you can place on your coolers, with messages that if you drink a bottle of cold water you can burn 5 calories, but if you drink this soda, it'll take you 45 minutes of walking to burn off those calories.

They can put in Healthy Vending machines to offer some healthier choices in their terminals. The machines are branded; they're free to put in.

HDT: You're chairman of the American Trucking Associations' Health & Wellness Working Group. What does that involve?

We meet once or twice a year and try to give people ideas so they don't have to build a hospital wing to start a wellness program. Companies can do simple things like screening and health awareness days.

We had the idea to send out wellness bulletins. Fleets write in and tell their drivers' personal stories to show people what other drivers and fleets are doing in this industry. Maybe Bob drives that same route, reads that testimonial, and thinks, 'If he can lose 50 pounds, so can I.'

HDT: What are some of the biggest health issues facing truckers?

The biggest issue is access to exercise. We show them ways they can exercise on the road and use their trucks as pieces of equipment. We opened our first Snap Fitness Rolling Strong gym at a Flying J in Dallas in June, and there are six more on the drawing board.

The other [issue] is eating. We provide grocery shopping lists and education on how to prepare healthy food. Drivers know the value of a pre-trip inspection on their rig; the same principle applies to their refrigerator.

HDT: Tell me about some of your latest initiatives.

The Rolling Strong Driver Wellness Tour has been so rewarding. It's been so exciting to see the drivers really embrace the tour.

We see more and more drivers out there by their trucks working out, running, jogging, doing pushups. I see drivers pull equipment out of their truck and work out on the travel center lot.

We're coming out with a Rolling Strong food line, a healthier version of sandwiches and meals to-go that drivers can get out of the vending machine.

StayHealthy HealthCenter stations are self-administered technology we're putting in terminals, [including] some of the Pilot Flying Js. These kiosks can check weight, BMI, blood pressure, vision, and it gives drivers information on how to better take care of themselves on the road.

We also recently introduced the first driver wellness app on the iPhone, where drivers can go in and get a healthy tip every day, find out where the new gyms are, where they can use a HealthCenter station, nutritional guides and so forth.

HDT: Why do you think we've seen an increase in interest in driver health the past couple of years?

Now that the economy's turned, fleets need drivers, and there isn't a big pool of drivers, so everybody recognizes the need to preserve and take care of these drivers. Drivers want to work for the companies out there that are embracing wellness.

Our goal in the future is to get everybody - not just the fleets and travel centers - involved in trucking to join forces and be part of the solution.