MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — It takes just two things to live a healthy life as a professional driver: knowledge and commitment.
That was the message from an inspiring panel discussion on driver health and wellness, held at this week’s Driving for Profit seminar. Andrea Morley, a nutritionist with NAL Insurance’s Healthy Trucker program, said drivers can be healthy on the road if they’re prepared and educated. That means planning for a healthy trip before setting out.
“The number one tip we tell drivers is to pack whatever food you can in the truck,” she said. “It’s easy for them to do. If they cross the border, that’ s just a hurdle, not a barrier. As soon as you cross, stop at a Walmart Supercenter and pick up everything you need for your trip. Drivers tell us Walmarts are their best friends. They have massive parking lots, a huge variety of items and prices are affordable.”
Morley said drivers have demonstrated incredible ingenuity when it comes to preparing healthy meals in their cabs.
“The portable cooking equipment that’s out there is incredible,” she said. “You’d be shocked at how many drivers use rice cookers to cook full-blown meals right in their truck.”
Professional drivers are susceptible to many health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, a condition defined by the presence of high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol and excess body fat.
“When someone has any one of these conditions, they are going to be at risk for things like heart attack, stroke or diabetes,” Morley explained. “When all four conditions are present, that’s the biggest warning sign that you have to take action immediately or you will at some point in your life, be diagnosed with diabetes or will have a heart attack or stroke.”
Morley said metabolic syndrome is a risk for drivers, since they are often overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle and are constantly confronted with unhealthy food options. However, she also noted alternatives are available, and truck stops are increasingly offering healthier options. She doesn’t buy into the theory that drivers are too busy to maintain their health.
“Think about some of the absolute fittest people you know,” she countered. “Some of the fittest people you know are the busiest people you know. We have to make the choice to get a workout in. Take advantage of every spare minute you have, whether it’s before work, during a break, after work or during your days off.”
Mario Da Silva, director, corporate services with Challenger Motor Freight, says his company has promoted health and wellness for several years and has seen a change in its staff and drivers. He said more drivers are now carrying bikes and weights with them on the road, running, walking and doing simple things like parking further away in truck stop parking lots.
Challenger also reaches out to drivers’ families to get them on-board and ensure drivers have support at home. The company takes part in Healthy Trucker’s Healthy Fleet Challenge and makes the Healthy Trucker program available to its employees. Da Silva himself has participated and dropped more than 30 lbs. He admitted not all drivers were initially eager to participate.
“At first it was slow,” he acknowledged, adding the company now has more than 400 people taking part in NAL Insurance’s Healthy Trucker program. “It works for those employees who want to make that choice (to get healthy),” Da Silva added.
His advice to fleets looking to implement a wellness program is to “Take it slow, get your employees involved, celebrate your wins and just have fun.”
When developing a health and wellness program, mental health should not be overlooked, added Kelly McNaughton, regional clinical manager with Shepell.
“We know drivers spend a lot off time alone in the truck, thinking of things going on at home, their partner at home, finances…depression can set in, there’s anxiety,” she said. McNaughton noted a driver who’s suffering from mental illness is not able to perform at work to the best of their ability and is unlikely to approach their employer to discuss their problems.
“Drivers are not robots, they’re humans,” she said, encouraging fleets to check in on the wellbeing of their drivers, especially when there are signs something may be amiss.
“The best thing a company can do is approach…say to somebody ‘I’ve noticed some changes with you and seen a bit of a difference. Are you okay?’ Just put out a feeler, give them licence to talk and open the door,” she said.
Da Silva agreed. He recalled speaking to a driver who showed an uncharacteristic spike in risky driving behaviours. It turned out the driver was having problems at home. He was given a different route that would get him home more frequently.
“It’s hard for employees to come to you, they think they’re going to be shunned,” he said. “It’s important to engage your employees.”