October 14, 2021
Driving towards a healthier future
Arvind Nunner is at a Petro-Pass north of Edmonton on Highway 43 when he takes some time to talk to us about health behind the wheel.
At 63, Nunner has been a commercial driver for 25 years, the last year and a half of which he has spent hauling mixed freight for Rosenau Transport. In his earlier years driving, he was partial to eating fast food and drinking “8-10 cans of pop” a day. All that changed when Nunner turned 50.
“I saw the light when I turned 50,” he explained. “I got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I took it real serious and after that I changed everything. Literally overnight.”
Nunner’s diagnosis is not uncommon for commercial drivers.
In a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) blog “Long-Haul Truck Driver Health Survey Results” penned by Karl Sieber, the findings of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health National Survey of Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury were shared. Survey results found 69 per cent of respondents were obese “as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher”. The article added obesity increases the chance for type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, cancer, joint and back pain and stroke.
For drivers seeking more information on ways of being healthier on the road, resources are available.
The Trucking Fitness Company, founded by Mark Menara, provides drivers with nutrition coaching, restaurant manuals and networking with other drivers. The website Healthy Trucker was created when NAL Insurance noticed an increasing trend of commercial drivers suffering from lifestyle-related health issues and injuries.
Andrea Morley, Communications & Wellness Coordinator, NAL Insurance Inc. said Healthy Trucker was born as a solution to provide wellness education and resources for the trucking industry. While NAL works directly with their clientele they also provide resources industry-wide through free challenges, presentations and articles.
Morley said issues drivers face include a combination of limited healthy options, a stressful lifestyle and schedule, and a lack of knowledge on what their options are.
“None of that is their fault,” she said. “It can be hard to bring healthy food on the road at times, but it’s even more difficult for many people to know where to get started and what diet changes to make when they are constantly bombarded with misinformation in the media. Because of that, a lot of drivers have tried to make changes in the past with little or no results. That’s where we try to step in and provide simple, easy-to-follow advice that works.”
Cliff Litke has held his Class 1 license for 30 years. The Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) Senior Advisor, Workplace Support Services is a former co-worker of Nunner and strong advocate of staying healthy on the job.
“It is so easy to fall into a nutritional rut when you are always sitting at a steering wheel. Whatever is quick and easy is almost never the right choice,” Litke explained. “With a little (maybe a lot) of planning, a driver can ensure that they have the right kinds of foods on hand. The more the driver looks after themselves, the easier it is for them to deal with stressful situations, have a longer career, be much less prone to injury and even mentor younger drivers to follow in their footsteps.”
Morley suggests drivers pack as much healthy food as possible when heading out on the road. Options include pre-made meals or traveling with staples to cook simple meals in a rice cooker or air fryer.
“When in a truck stop, choose foods that look the way they were raised or grown, not something that had to come out of a factory,” she explained. “This means basic cuts of meat, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit, whenever they are available. Avoiding deep fried food is really important, as well as processed seed oils like vegetable oil, found in most salad dressings, mayonnaise, and more. We know it’s hard to avoid the junk food that is available everywhere, but the more consistently you steer clear of the junk, the easier it will be.”
Nunner suggests utilizing coolers for goods from home if drivers don’t have a fridge in their truck. He admitted it was difficult at first to make the change to eating healthier and cutting out pop entirely to drink water.
“It’s willpower,” he said. “You have to have the drive within yourself … there’s no one out on the road to check you except yourself.”
For physical health, Nunner works out two-and-a-half hours a week when he’s not on the road. He’ll also utilize the full gym available at Rosenau’s Edmonton terminal. When he’s on the road he says it’s easy to put on some gloves and do some push-ups off the back of a truck or go for a walk before calling it a night, sentiments echoed by Morley.
“Don’t stress about doing intense workouts unless you really want to, or unless building muscle is your goal,” she said. “Focusing more on your diet, rest, and restorative exercise like walking and stretching will do wonders for a driver’s health, especially if they’re just getting started on their wellness journey.”
The importance of health for commercial transportation workers has been a driving force behind the creation of the AMTA Micro-Learn library. A series of videos were focusing on Slips, Trips and Falls were created in partnership with Canada Cartage, of which the video “Fit for Duty” focuses on driver health. A new series focusing on Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention in partnership with Rosenau Transport is in the midst of being released. All videos can be found at amta.ca.