Truck drivers are vital to the health of our economy, but their personal health takes a big hit. Here’s how to keep them healthy in only four minutes.
Imagine if NASA sent astronauts into outer space without giving them a space suit or telling them about zero gravity. That would be bad. That would be reckless. It would, in fact, be criminally negligent.
Well, that’s exactly what the trucking industry is doing.
Trucking into obesity
There are an estimated 3 million truck drivers in America, 69 percent of whom have what the American Medical Association calls the disease of obesity. Long haul truck drivers also have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome — a group of conditions that raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes — and according to some statistics, the lowest life expectancy of any occupation in America. Go to any truck stop and anyone can see that in America’s War Against Obesity, the trucking industry is Ground Zero.
In need of “truck suits”
In order to obtain a commercial truck driver’s license, a person has to pass an examination to demonstrate they have the knowledge to operate the truck safely and protect both the cargo and the safety of the motoring public. The test includes a pre-trip inspection in which the driver must check over 100 parts of the truck to make sure it is “healthy” enough to drive. But of the three main components — tractor, trailer and driver — it is the driver that is most important. However, America’s drivers are neither taught nor tested on the effects of sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep. They are not informed that within the first year of their driving career, the two most important systems responsible for their survival and well-being, their circadian rhythms and metabolism, will be become dysfunctional. This causes a serum leptin and ghrelin hormone imbalance that disrupt proper metabolic signaling. Worse still, the drivers are not taught simple techniques to protect themselves from the unique occupational hazards that lead to metabolic syndrome. America is sending good men and women into the most unhealthy occupation with no education, no training, and no “truck suit” to protect them.
Four minutes to health
In 2017, after five years of developing the most effective weight loss program in America specifically created for the truck driving environment, I published a book called 4-Minute Fit: The Metabolism Accelerator for the Time Crunched, Deskbound and Stressed-Out. It was intended to be the manual for how to take care of the health of truck drivers. I traveled around the country speaking to national and state trucking associations, as well as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). I appeared in nearly every major national media outlet as “The Fitness Guru to the Trucking Industry,” teaching my simple, two-step technique: 1) turn your metabolism on before you start driving by moving with maximum intensity for four minutes; and 2) keep the metabolism on be eating some form of protein every three hours. It doesn’t matter what the movement is so long as a person is breathing so hard they can barely finish a sentence. Thus, the exercise and intensity is relative to one’s current fitness level. With these simple marching orders, I set out to revolutionize the trucking industry by creating a culture of fitness within it and taking the occupation with the highest rate of obesity and making it a model for corporate wellness. My book is full of all of the primary data and science behind this technique that produced an average weight loss of 19 pounds, or 7 percent of one’s body weight, in just 13 weeks.
Unfortunately, I failed. For one of my clients, a carrier with more than 7,000 drivers, only 1 percent of the fleet had enrolled in the 13-week program, which provided them with free weekly coaching to master the technique. I learned that it is not enough to have the training program, coaching resources, tools, and even an unbeatable wellness incentive. Those things were not enough to get drivers to take advantage of the assistance. If the drivers don’t value the training and benefit, they won’t take action and change their behavior. It became clear to me that the missing element in empowering truck drivers was a mechanism for changing their values. How do we get drivers to value their health enough to do the simple 4-Minute Fit technique every day?
It takes a village
The answer, I believe, is culture. It is culture at home, at school, in the workplace, and in society in general that creates, shapes, and sustains our values. We can empower truck drivers to take action that significantly reduces obesity at little to no cost by building a national 4-Minute Fit movement. If every American who depends on truck drivers for all their durable goods would commit to taking four minutes at the start of their day to turn on their metabolism on in solidarity with the nation’s truck drivers and make sure to ask everyone, “Did you do your four minutes today,” then we could create a culture and build a movement that is not only good for truck drivers, but also the 139 million American adults who are overweight or obese. To kick off the annual National Truck Driver Appreciation and Wellness Week (NTDAWW), Sunday, September 8 has been designated “National 4-Minute Fit Day.” Do your four minutes and ask someone else if they did their four minutes, using the free “4-Minute Fit Day for NTDAWW” workout on the Skimble Workout Trainer app. If we can get millions of people to dump a bucket of ice water on their head, we can get millions of people to invest four minutes in their health and help empower truck drivers to do the same.
Siphiwe Baleka, Driver Fitness Coach, [email protected]