For Your Health

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Let’s see, I gave up on that New Year’s resolution, the new look for spring didn’t happen, and so far my summer exercise program is a bust.  Maybe I should just order tickets to next year’s Tim Horton’s coffee and pastry review!  Sounds reasonable.  What’s a few more inches around the middle, and besides, they have drive-ups now, so I don’t even have to get out of the vehicle.  Maybe they will add big rig accessible windows soon, or maybe some car hop folks to bring me my morning goodies.  If this sounds like you, then HELLO, here’s your sign!  Heart attack and diabetes ahead, along with rolling curves and excess rolls from your neckline to your ankles, not to mention broken bones and loss of productivity due to illness.

If this sounds harsh, then there is a good chance you are who I am targeting this article at.  Some of you may have noticed I incorporate health issues into my Veteran’s View articles of late.  There is a reason for that – I care about all our readers.  Since the average age for truck drivers is above the “normal employee” age, I have been taking notes on some things that may help us live longer and enjoy our “not so normal” lifestyle longer.  Before you panic and break out in the pre-workout sweats, let me assure you I’m not gonna do my Marine Corps drill instructor routine.  I will save that for the advanced class.  Besides, they don’t get coffee and cakes after class.

Let me set the record straight, I’m an equal opportunity heckler.  Bad health issues can strike even the most fit person.  We often assume only overweight and under-active persons are the ones ill health is going to hit.  Most illnesses and diseases have warning signs.  Do you know what they are, and if so, are you doing anything about your personal health?  Now, it stands to reason, an OTR driver can’t join any health club or attend the gym regularly, however that doesn’t exclude them from the benefits of a good exercise regimen and food choices more aligned with the lifestyle we live.

The regular readers of this column know I am a common, ordinary, and sometimes ornery, old truck driver (not a doctor), who is always busy.  Most of the time, I try to do the work of two people.  That sums up many of the drivers on the road today.  Between chasing the ELD and trying to find parking at a place with a restaurant, it’s a full-time struggle.  What sets us apart is I have been forced to become food aware.  For those who don’t understand that, let me explain.  I too neglected signs of something wrong with my health, but true to my past, I thought, “I can beat this if only I work a little harder or maybe it’s just a phase of getting older.”  Well, that didn’t work out well for me.  I almost didn’t get
older!  As a result, I now have a restricted diet and can no longer enjoy many of the foods I love, with ice cream being the greatest loss of all.

Do I have your attention yet?  I’m not writing this to draw attention to myself, but to help others avoid the complications I have had to endure.  Thanks to covid, many, if not most, of the mom-and-pop restaurants along the interstates have closed or restricted their hours.  This translates to drivers eating out of the bunk or consuming fast food or low-quality junk food.  That doesn’t mean you can’t still get a good meal on the road, but you will need to do a little planning, and then put in some personal effort to succeed.  When I talk about planning ahead, I’m referring to when you are going to eat and where you will be at that time.  This is where chasing the ELD goes off the rails.

Stop thinking like your dispatcher or every broker who contracts a load for you – your health is more important than their load.  Get out the trusty old Rand McNally atlas and see what town is running parallel to the highway.  Then, call the local police station and ask where you can legally park an 18-wheeler that is within walking distance of a good restaurant.  Almost every town has a local coffee shop or gathering place that will make you dinner.  Not only will you get a great meal, but the walk can help you as much as the food.  Remember, if you do find a place to stop, you are a guest in their town, so act accordingly.

I hope I’m preaching to the choir here, but if not, then start by parking your truck as far away from the fuel island as possible.  Walk as much as possible, a couple times a day, to stretch your legs.  And don’t try to sell me on the story you never stop while the ELD is ticking.  How many of you get cramps or Charlie Horses in your legs or forearms?  Maybe you find yourself rubbing your hands together to stop the tingling feeling in your fingers.  Go ahead and be honest here – it’s only you and me, and no one knows what’s in your mind.

There is not a doctor in the world that can do a better assessment of your physical condition than you.  We all want to be that Bad Azz trucker with a full head of hair and biceps the size of a grapefruit, but chances are that gym rat doesn’t have a job requiring a CDL.  He lives in a workout routine and might not be eating any better than you.  The only thing different is he consumes excess protein and not the sugar road drivers live on.  Since you do have a CDL, you need to find another way to accomplish positive eating habits and find some sort of a reasonable form of exercise.

Once again, I need to reiterate, I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one in the movies, but I will share some of the methods I have found that work for me.  I have a very good friend in Iowa who got me to thinking about this month’s subject.  Mr. Bill is the perfect example of the American driver: he is over 60, slim, and well versed in hard work, since he is an open top machinery hauler.  Like many of us, he lives on coffee and sweets, when his wonderful wife isn’t looking, of course.  But, thanks to Miss Nancy, she saw the signs of trouble, and convinced him to park the truck and get to the nearest hospital.  After having a heart attack and then a quadruple bypass, he is now resting at home and following his doctor’s orders, which include no truck driving and lots of walking.

We might not all have physically demanding jobs, but we still need to be vigilant.  Stress is my most constant companion while doing my job.  Stress comes in many forms, and all of them are destructive.  City traffic is probably the most common trigger for me, followed by driving in mountainous terrain, then foggy wet weather after dark or blowing snow.  This is October, and if you are running any place north of I-10, you are going to experience all these conditions soon, if you haven’t already.  So, what do you do?  We all have ways of coping with these discomforts, but how can you avoid them altogether?  Unfortunately, quitting your job or parking until better weather comes is not an option.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you are not driving while enjoying this month’s edition of 10-4 Magazine.  With that being said, I want you to pretend you are.  Place your arms in front of you as if you are steering the truck.  Now look at your hands, spread your fingers wide, and move your hands around, first up then down.  Make a motion like you are waving to a child.  Continue this motion until you feel the muscles in your forearm pull.  That’s where I feel stress when I’m in a long traffic backup or in foul weather.  I have found it is from gripping the steering wheel harder than normal, even though it is an involuntary action.  I first feel it in my hands and arms, then it gets to my shoulders.  Doing this simple exercise helps relieve the tension in my arms.

I know some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking about what a goof I am.  If you already know this, then I truly hope you are sharing your tricks or secrets to help other drivers who may not know.  If you’re not in that crowd, then take some time when not driving to experiment with different ways to relax your muscles.  Years ago, I had a friend from Florida, who was not a winter weather driver, manage to get himself dispatched to northern Michigan in time for a cold and snowy night with a stiff wind and drifts across the road.  As you can guess, panic set in.  Fortunately, he had a friend to call – which was me.  He knew I made that trip five nights a week and thought I might be able to come and rescue him.  But the best lessons learned are the ones you do for yourself.

I spent a couple hours reassuring Jimmy he was doing fine, encouraging him to relax, and to remember all the techniques he learned for driving in the rain.  Sure, you can’t see as well, and the road surface is more slippery, but the rules still apply.  It took a while, but he did manage to arrive safely to a truck stop and park for the night.  I then sent him into the washroom to run warm water on his hands.  It’s a simple solution to relieve the muscles in your hands and arms, plus the warm water will slow your heartbeat, which helps calm anxiety.

Every driver that is honest with themselves should admit to some event that causes them to become anxious or nervous.  Most of us worry about the weather more than anything else.  I too fall into that camp, but since I can’t change the weather, I should at the very least know what to expect from it.  I have written many times about the six Ps, which are good guidelines to live by: Prior Preparation Prevents P—s Poor Performance.  Sorry, sometimes I forget this is a family magazine.  There is no need to be uninformed with today’s mass media.  Any day of the week can brew up the most extreme weather, depending on where you are, but knowing when and where can help dispel your stress.

When you know trouble is coming, get ready, and make preparations before you need them.  Now would be a good time to pull your chains out of the rack and see if any need to be repaired.  You might even practice installing them if you aren’t in the habit of using them.  It’s far easier to do in a dry parking lot than on the side of an icy hill while other drivers are trying to get around you.  Here’s an idea – if you’re driving into an area expecting a hurricane, it might be good to have food for a few days and enough water to share.  It doesn’t really matter what the conditions are, and that includes your health, if you know ahead of time and make preparations, you too can weather the storm, 10-4!

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