Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Last month, U.S. Xpress driver Danny George competed in the Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga triathlon – a 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River, a 116 mile bike course, and a 26.2-mile marathon through Chattanooga.

As reported by the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, George trains where and when he can. As he told reporter Alex Green, ”If the truck stops, I get out and start running.”

U.S. Xpress asked him to compete in the triathlon as part of the company’s Highway to Health program, a comprehensive program focused on improving the health and wellbeing of the company’s workforce, including its 7,000 drivers.

Efforts like the one at U.S. Xpress are ever more important. A recent HireRight survey found that health issues were an important reason drivers were leaving their jobs.

In its 2016 Transportation Spotlight report, the provider of recruiting and retention services found that 21% of drivers are leaving due to health issues. Fleets report they are losing drivers who can no longer re-certify to drive after health issues were uncovered under newer more stringent DOT physical procedures. Yet 45% of respondents to the survey did not offer any kind of wellness program.

There are many benefits to offering wellness programs for employees, although they can be hard to quantify. Much as it can be hard to quantify investment in advanced safety systems because it’s tough to measure the accidents you didn’t have, wellness programs can reap hard-to-calculate results such as happier employees, improved driver retention, lower health insurance and workers compensation costs, and improved safety on the road.

Leaders in this area include Melton Truck Lines, Schneider, Celadon, and Prime Inc., which offer things such as on-site gyms, wellness screenings, hiring wellness managers, walking trails, healthy snacks, onsite health clinics for routine checkups and illnesses, health education, weight-loss programs, smoking cessation programs, wellness coaching online and by phone as well as in person, and various incentives, contests and motivational programs. Prime uses another triathlon trucker, Siphiwe Baleka, to head up its efforts to teach drivers how to take charge of their health.

But you don’t have to become a triathlete to see a significant improvement in your health. While stories like that of Danny George may be inspiring to some, others might find it intimidating. Yet according to the National Institutes of Health, losing just 5 to 10% of your current weight over six months will lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions. Similarly, even small amounts of exercise can reap large benefits.

In a perfect world, all of us would adhere to the federal government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity for adults. But recent studies have shown that even a small amount of exercise goes a long way.

While it’s relatively easy for office workers to follow recommendations such as getting out of their chair and moving around for five minutes out of every hour, or take advantage of an on-site gym or walking trail, that’s obviously harder for drivers.

But more truckstops are offering walking trails and gyms. And if you search the Internet for “trucker exercise” you’ll find several examples of exercises drivers can do in and around their truck. Baleka even has developed an app featuring 15-minute workouts for truckers.

Just as your drivers and other employees can benefit from starting with small amounts of exercise and small changes to their diets, you don’t have to go out and hire a wellness manager and build a gym to start on the road to better company-wide wellness. Start a wellness newsletter, or work with your insurance company to institute annual health screenings, or start a Weight Watchers At Work meeting, or provide workout apps or step counters as an employee benefit. Take that first step to help your employees take the first step to wellness.