Trucking poses its fair share of physical, emotional and mental challenges. For example, truckers may need to be away from their families for days or weeks at a time. They sit behind a wheel for hours and may frequently have little choice other than to eat out at fast food restaurants on the road.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. according to the CDC, and for truck drivers, who spend hours sitting behind a wheel, inactivity and lack of exercise can create hazardous conditions for your heart. Before you can make the right steps toward a healthy lifestyle, you need to understand the risk factors for heart disease.
Here's a look at the risk factors linking truck drivers and heart attacks, and what you can do to reduce the danger.
Risk Factors for Heart Attacks
A person's odds of a heart attack tend to increase in these situations:
- Male 45 or older
- Female 55 or older
- Not enough physical activity
- Smoking (including exposure to secondhand smoke)
- Illegal drug use
- Rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune illness
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Family history of heart attacks
While there are some factors, such as a familly history including heart conditions, that are outside of your control, there is much that a driver can control to stay heart healthy. Factors such as eating right, exercising and keeping stress levels low can reduce the risk of a heart attack and allow truck drivers to stay in the driver's seat to earn a respectable living in the trucking industry..
Truckers Meet Many Risk Factors Head-On
Many truckers struggle with weight, smoking, bad eating habits and other things that lead to health issues. Trucking, by its very nature, lends itself to potential danger areas such as inactivity and stress. So, truckers have to be extra-conscious about improving or maintaining their health. These are the major areas to focus on:
Eating habits: High-calorie foods are everywhere on the road. One way to get more heart-healthy food in your diet is to keep a mini-fridge in your rig so you can bring more heart-friendly foods from home. As for eating out, aim to substitute fries with green beans, broccoli or other vegetables. Also, drink water or tea as an alternative to full-calorie sodas with limited nutritional value.
Physical activity: Exercise helps lots of things, not just heart health. It can improve flexibility, blood circulation and back pain in truck drivers. American Heart Association guidelines call for 75 minutes of intense exercise per week (running, for example) or 150 minutes of moderate exercise (walking, for example). If you go the moderate route, that breaks down to just 30 minutes of walk time five days per week. You can get that in by doing short walks before and after you are on the road, and during your breaks.
Smoking: It's tough to quit smoking, often more so than to quit eating certain types of food. The good news: getting started is sometimes the hardest part. After some time (say, three months), your habits may be noticeably healthier. If all else fails, at least try to cut back; you’ll not only help your overall heart health, you’ll also save money when you purchase fewer cigarettes.
Stress: Stress can be a normal part of life, but if not managed properly, it can be very harmful to your heart. The good news is, the same steps that reduce heart disease - exercise, not smoking, good diet - also reduce stress. You should try to make time to relax every day – whether that be by meditating, listening to music or going for a walk. While this might seem impossible on a busy schedule, if you make stress-reduction a priority, it will pay off in the long run.
The Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Both male and female truck drivers should watch for these indicators:
- Pain, pressure or squeezing sensations in the chest
- Cold sweat
- Abdominal pain or nausea
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain
- Jaw pain
Chest pain is the most common sign for both men and women. Women are also more likely than men to experience back and/or jaw pain, nausea and shortness of breath. Some people experience these signs for hours or even weeks. The onset of a heart attack is often sudden and without warning, so if you are concerned, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Don't try to drive yourself to the hospital, call 911. Better to have a false alarm checked out than to work in agony or worse.
Maintain a Healthy Heart as a Truck Driver
You can live a healthy lifestyle while enjoying an exciting career as a truck driver. The challenges of a trucking job increase the need for you to be informed about your heart health. You should know the risk factors, and know what you can do to make positive changes to keep your heart healthy.