Staying healthy on the road is easier than you think

White day cab big rig industrial semi truck transporting commercial cargo in dry van semi trailer running in convoy behind another semi truck driving on the interstate highway road

Let’s face facts… The lifestyle of the long haul driver is far from the healthiest of lifestyles.  Our jobs are sedentary, our stress levels can be quite high and our eating habits can be atrocious.  Grabbing a coffee and a pastry in the morning, maybe a few more coffees during the day, something quick from the truck stop deli, or one of the fast food places most truck stops offer, high sugar soft drinks, or energy drinks to “pump you up” for the last few miles of the day, then probably another burger, or something similar from the truck stop before crawling under the blankets for not-so refreshing sleep.  Sound familiar?  I bet it does…  I’ve been there, and done that, and it almost killed me earlier this year.

From when I started driving professionally in 1985, I made some very bad dietary choices, and due to the shifts I was working, there was very little time to be active, and my weight jumped by almost 200 lbs in what seemed like a few weeks.  9 years of driving a taxi 70+ hours a week, then moving into a truck for about the same number of hours was basically a giant step sideways.  To make matters worse, I was running team, so there was almost no time to stop for a meal, let alone a decent meal.  I was basically living off junk food, caffeine and sugary soft drinks.  For 11 years I was off the long haul, doing city and local work, so my eating habits improved somewhat, but I was still hitting the burger, pizza and sandwich joints pretty hard, and guzzling regular soft drinks like a sponge.  Upwards of 2 litres a day, every day.  Then, about 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, given a blood sugar monitor,  and told what I needed to do.  Eat healthier, get more exercise and lose weight.  Gone were the sugar loaded soft drinks, and regular sugar from my coffee.  These 2 changes alone dropped my weight about 80 lbs.  My cholesterol was also off the charts (normal is 2.2, mine was 10+.  The scale ends at 10.)  I cut back the junk food, and to be honest, I took the prescribed meds when I remembered, which wasn’t all that often.  My cholesterol returned to the measurable range, but was still quite high.  Another prescription, but like the others, it was taken on occasion.  In 2019, I returned to the line haul lifestyle, and brought food from home.  Even though it was healthier food, I was still hitting the junk food places a few times a week.  Even their “healthy” options are far from “healthy”  It’s kind of like choosing to get hit by a cement truck or a freight train.  The cement truck isn’t going to do as much damage, but it’s still going to kill you.  I carried on like this until May 24 of this year.  A heart attack on the road changed everything, literally, in a heart beat.  My Apple Watch woke me from a dead (pardon the pun) sleep, flashing, vibrating and buzzing like crazy.  The display said something to the effect of: “An excessively high heart rate has been detected while you appear to be resting.”  I thought: “No kidding!  I was sleeping!”  A quick call to 911 had the ambulance at the truck in minutes, and I walked to the ambulance.  They started working on me immediately, and before long I was in the hospital.  Heart rate and pulse were both WAY above normal, so they did what was needed to keep me alive, and get my pulse and blood pressure back to somewhere near normal, before sending me off to the Cardiac Care Unit in a larger hospital, where I spent 5 days.  Upon discharge, I was off work for 3 months, under went a battery of tests to determine if I was well enough to drive again.  I am, and I’m back on the road, but I’ve learned the hard way that a sedentary lifestyle, poor eating habits, and other bad choices are an express route to pain, misery and suffering.

SO what changes have I made to prevent this from happening again?  First and foremost, healthy eating, and lifestyle choices.  Sounds simple, and should be common sense, but believe me, it’s not…  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and skipping it can cause a lot of health issues, one of which is excessive weight gain.  Yes, skipping breakfast causes weight gain.  Actually, skipping any meal causes weight gain, but skipping breakfast is the worst.  Food is what fuels the body, and the time between supper and breakfast is usually about 12 hours, so your body is looking for fuel to get you going.  Skipping breakfast denies your body that fuel.  Biology “remembers” that after supper, the next fuel intake isn’t for a very long time, so it stores energy in reserves.  This energy reserve is body fat.  It also explains why you feel sluggish during the day.  Your body is storing some of the energy from your meals to use it later.  So be sure to eat 3 good healthy meals a day.  If, like me, you’d get by on one big meal at the end of the day, the benefits of eating 3 smaller meals throughout the day will be apparent in very short order.  More energy through out the day, less muscle strain, less fatigue, sharper reflexes and many other benefits.

When it comes to your daily downtime, instead of reading or watching TV in the truck, walk the perimeter of the parking lot for 30 minutes.  The fresh air and exercise will do you good and it’ll help with your digestion as well.  If you like to snack during the day, make healthy choices… Fresh fruits, veggie platters and the like.  Stay away from the fast food, starchy and highly processed foods.  The fat, sodium and caloric levels are something you can do without.  

I went from basically eating a 50-50 split between decent meals and junk food to a 95% healthy 5% junk food split, and my weight has continued to drop, and I’m feeling much better.  I’m also far more diligent with my medications, and I make sure I get a good solid night’s sleep every night.  I also take my 30 minute walk around the parking lot before turning in, so I’m pretty tired when I crawl under the blankets.

It’s hard to believe that making just these few simply changes can change, and even save your life, but they can…  Healthy eating, and exercise is all you need.  That being said, it’s okay to grab a greasy burger and fries once or twice a month.  Even the doctor will tell you that.  Just keep it to once or twice a month.

Don Taylor has been a professional driver since March 1985.  In 1994 he made the jump to driving tractor trailers, and has accumulated over 3.5 million miles, including over 4 years of driving turnpike doubles in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  He is currently hauling flat decks across North America.