After 20-plus years as a health and fitness professional, I landed in the trucking world by what I now call divine intervention. I didn’t become a truck driver; nor did I leave the health and fitness world. These two worlds, for me, became one.
While I always enjoyed working with my typical clients of executives and athletes, I also noticed that I felt more fulfilled when I worked with people who had less resources and were truly in need of my guidance. When I was introduced to the trucking industry in 2015, working with Iowa-based carrier Hirschbach, not only did I meet some of the most amazing people, but I also met a group of people who were struggling with their health and I felt could use my help – truck drivers.
I was not surprised by their poor health. I know they spend a great deal of time behind the wheel and away from home. I know many of them smoke, and I am aware of what is available for them to eat at most truck stops.
What did catch me by surprise was how little effort has been put forth by trucking companies overall to improve driver health – even more so as I learned the statistics around driver turnover and driver shortages, as well as safety and accidents. It became apparent to me that trucking companies care about driver turnover rates and safety, but most have yet to make the connection between these concerns and driver wellness.
At Hirschbach, my connection to drivers came fairly quickly. I respected their honesty and directness, and they noticed that I too was open, honest, and direct. I shared my hard beginnings coupled with anger and depression issues, and how I overcame them accidentally through exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. I was not there to tell them how to eat or exercise. I was there to partner with them to find solutions to their health goals and concerns. They could sense that I, and our company, genuinely cared and wanted to help. Most drivers want to be healthier and happier, and they are grateful to get help from someone who cares.
I believe by treating drivers with kindness and compassion, and becoming their partner to find solutions, our industry can change the trajectory of the lives of our drivers. We can improve their health, energy, stress, quality of life, and possibly even extend their lives. We’ve all heard about the studies showing over-the-road drivers have the shortest lifespan of any American workforce. I’ve seen statistics that show their average lifespan to be somewhere between 61 and 68 years old, while the average American’s expected lifespan is between 78 and 82 years old. That’s a huge gap. But we have the power to change that, as owners, managers and employees of trucking companies. We just have to make wellness a part of our company’s culture and priorities.
That’s why in this column, every other month, I will be discussing topics revolving around driver wellness that include a holistic approach to health, such as sleep, nutrition on the road, exercising in and out of the truck, the human touch, and caffeine.
I hope this encourages you to explore and/or expand your wellness efforts for your drivers. We owe it to these fine folks who sacrifice so much in order to provide for themselves and their families.
Sergio Rojas, a 2018 HDT Truck Fleet Innovator, has over 21 years of experience as a personal trainer, nutritionist and health coach. Certified in a variety of nutrition and fitness disciplines, he holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, was a health expert for NBC for 11 years, and today heads up wellness efforts for Hirschbach Motor Lines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.