More truckers focus on getting healthier

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By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

Two years ago, truck driver Rick Ash weighed too much, slept fitfully and suffered body aches after a long day behind the wheel.

Ash, 60, of Lakewood, Colo., had spent decades sitting all day, guzzling a daily gallon of coffee with high-fructose corn syrup creamer. He subsisted on truck-stop and fast-food fare: often fried, sometimes drenched in gravy, loaded with fat and sugar. And he got little or no exercise.

"It's a very sedentary job," he says. "You sit in the seat and drive all day. Unless you make some considerable effort to eat healthy and exercise, it's very difficult to be healthy."

In 2010, Ash quit drinking coffee, substituting green tea and lots of water, and started eating salmon, baked chicken, brown rice and vegetables.

"A lot of fruit, melon and cottage cheese," Ash says. "I know that's not going to sound appetizing to a lot of truck drivers. But now, one of my favorite meals is a salad."

He started walking 20-30 miles a week and dropped 54 pounds over the next year. "I have an increase in energy," Ash says. "I sleep better. I don't have as many body aches from sitting in the truck all day long." He feels it in the wallet, too: Ash, an independent owner-operator, says his insurance premium dropped nearly $100 a month.

Now, he's trying to get the word out to his fellow drivers.

The nation's 3.5 million commercial truck drivers are in pretty poor health. A recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found transportation workers to have the highest obesity rate — 37.8% — of any U.S. industry.

Truckers also have higher rates of high blood pressure and smoking than the general public. Nearly a third of them have a sleep disorder that can cause drowsiness and slowed reaction times while driving.

Exercise a rarity

Truckers spend long hours behind the wheel, trying to cover as many miles as possible during their federally restricted driving hours. It's often difficult for them to purchase healthier fare because of truck-parking restrictions, leaving many with no dining options other than truck-stop restaurants. Many get little or no exercise.

A study of 2,950 truckers published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2009 found that 85% were overweight and 55% obese. That followed a 2007 study of 92 truckers in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that found that obesity among long-haul truck drivers was "much more severe" than among the general public... Continue reading.