February is American Heart Health month, and heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, which accounts for 25% of deaths in the United States. In fact, one person dies every 37 seconds in the United States from heart disease.
When we look at truck drivers and their lifestyle, it’s obvious that a great majority of them are at high risk of heart disease. This is a great time to work on helping drivers improve their heart health.
The key lifestyle factors that are putting truck drivers at higher risk for heart disease include smoking, poor diet, lack of physical movement, irregular sleep, and high levels of stress. By looking at each of these factors, we can assess how we are helping or hurting our drivers:
Recent data shows that 51% of truck drivers smoke cigarettes, compared to just 19% of Americans. Smoking increases your chances of developing heart disease by two to four times and increases your chances of dying from heart disease by two to three times. You can offer drivers resources to help them quit smoking. One example? Smoking cessation hypnosis audios that drivers can listen to as they fall asleep to help reduce cravings.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found 86% of the estimated 3.2 million truck drivers in America are obese. Obesity is directly correlated to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Encouraging drivers to cook in their trucks and/or bring homemade meals with them on the road can be extremely helpful, as fast food and truck stop foods are often filled with unhealthy fats, processed carbohydrates, and lots of added sugars. Those three combined are the perfect storm for rapid weight gain and increase in biomarkers for heart disease. Also, giving drivers some laminated sheets listing healthier food choices at typical restaurants can be very beneficial. You may even include the calories and the physical activity required to burn off those calories, which leads us to the next key lifestyle factor.
We all know how important exercise is for drivers. Lack of exercise increases risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Lack of exercise also negatively impacts sleep. It can seem like a conflict of interest encouraging our drivers to take time out of their day to exercise when we also want the most productivity and on-time deliveries, but we must step back and take a long-term perspective. If we want our drivers to be safer and to be around longer, we need to encourage exercise. In order to not affect drive time and miles, encourage drivers to exercise for three to 10 minutes several times per day, especially before driving, during 30-minute breaks, while making meals, or after dinner. Encourage them to start slow and focus on getting a total of 12 minutes or more of stretching, squatting, arm punches, fast walking, etc.
Poor sleep is tied directly and indirectly to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and dementia. Teaching drivers about the importance of power naps and sleep hygiene is a critical step. Teach drivers to black out their cabins; stop using electronics an hour before bedtime; get some exercise in throughout their day; and use relaxing sound apps like Calm or Sleep Cycle. YouTube has a large catalogue of relaxing meditation audios.
If we help support drivers and they begin to implement these lifestyle changes, their stress levels will lower. But there are other things they can do, too. We need to emphasize as trucking companies how we can help our drivers manage stress in any way we see fit.