Tips to help HGV drivers maintain health & fitness on the road
Demand for professional drivers continues to grow. As new people join the industry, it’s possible that some may not have thought about the importance of maintaining a good work life balance or the lifestyle changes that may require a new focus on their fitness and wellbeing. HGV drivers are naturally on the road for a large part of the time, with more than a third stating that this makes it a challenge to be healthy (according to research by Morrisons NuMe).
Whether you’re a long-haul or short-haul HGV driver, looking after your health is vital for not only your physical wellbeing but your mental wellbeing too. A little knowledge goes a long way – with the right exercises and meals, as well as productive scheduling, staying fit and healthy on the road will soon become a breeze.
With help from Driver Hire HGV drivers Mark Clarke and Steve Bond, we’ve put together this resource to help and support others – and to also demonstrate that maintaining health and fitness on the road is as attainable for commercial drivers as it is for anyone else.
Professional driving can be very rewarding, but it can cause health issues too. A study highlighted that the working environment can make it easy for drivers to fall into unhealthy habits, including for instance:
- Lack of physical activity
- Extended periods of being sedentary
- Poor diet choices
- Irregular sleeping patterns
All of the above can increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese. In fact, researchers at Loughborough University, in partnership with the University of Leicester and University of York found that in the UK, 84% of HGV drivers were overweight or obese in comparison to 75% of males (the same age) nationwide.
These issues can be overcome though, as there are plenty of ways for HGV drivers to maintain a positive lifestyle. Steve Bond at Driver Hire Plymouth is the perfect example. Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes four years ago, he took up road cycling and created a fitness regime, as well as altering his diet to cut out a bunch of carbohydrates. His efforts made a positive impact on his life, so much so that he lost two and a half stone and reduced the extent of his diabetes to a prediabetic level. Since then, he has been able to start enjoying carbs again (in moderation), to fuel his workouts. Steve said:
“I have increased my carb intake as I found I was lacking in energy when exercising. Things like white bread are a no go. I still have rice with a curry and the odd meal with pastry and potato, but the portions are smaller than I was eating before.”
Keeping in Shape
Lorry drivers can regain control of their fitness and stay in shape by getting into an exercise routine and adopting good dietary habits. Though you may think spending long amounts of time behind the wheel makes eating the right foods or exercising difficult, this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s all about mindset, and it is in fact doable. A poor diet and inactivity not only pose health concerns but they also decrease productivity. Therefore, overcoming these can help to keep you motivated whilst on the job.
The NHS advises that all adults must exercise for 150 minutes each week (around 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week), and there are several ways you can fit this into your driving schedule:
1. Exercising at Work
As they are sitting for much of the time, the muscles of HGV drivers can lose their strength more quickly than people in other professions. This is why it’s incredibly important to work out each day, even if it’s for a short amount of time. Just 15 minutes of exercise per day, whether it’s before your shift, during your break or after your shift, can benefit your health immensely, from helping to cut down on cravings to improving your mental health. And if you put your mind to it, there are many different exercises you can do whilst on the job:
- Stretching – both your body and your mind can start to feel restless if you’re sat down for long periods of time behind the wheel. Mark Clarke at Driver Hire Plymouth stresses the importance of combatting this:
“… listen to your body and look after it with poor posture prevention – you’re sat down for a long time so always make sure to stretch when you get out of the cab…”
- Walking and jogging – whether you do a short walk during your break, or you factor a longer workout in to your day, both walking and running are simple but effective ways to get in your daily exercise. And if there’s a trail nearby your stop, take advantage of this, not only can it facilitate your workout, but you’ll be able to do it on a scenic route too. You can also invest in gadgets like Fitbits or pedometers to keep track of your daily steps and workout progress – which are great motivators in themselves.
- Cycling – a foldaway bicycle may be a worthwhile investment to take along with you when on the job so that you can get in some exercise through cycling.
- Skipping – skipping ropes are inexpensive and will take up little room in your cab. Plus, you could burn up to 241 calories (individual weighing 91kg) in 20 minutes – and it’s incredibly easy to do.
- Press-ups – targeting many of our muscles, press-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises to do. You can use your vehicle to increase or decrease the difficulty of the workout. Stand with your hands on the side of the lorry to start with, then move to having your hands on the steps, and finish off with a standard press-up using the ground.
- Sit-ups – intended to target the core, sit-ups have several benefits from improving posture to reducing the risks of back pain. Once you’ve mastered sit-ups, try doing some v-ups to crank up the heat.
- Squats – another classic bodyweight exercise, squats are useful for strengthening and toning your lower body, which is especially beneficial for supporting the everyday driving position. If you want to take it up a notch, give jump-squats a go to increase the difficulty.
Providing you have the equipment, and they’re stored in your cab somewhere safe, weights are a fantastic way to ensure you get a workout in whilst on the road. You can even combine it with cardio to get a good range of activity going.
- Farmers walk – a great way to stimulate the whole body, with a dumbbell in each hand, is to walk the length of your lorry and return, taking short, quick steps. This exercise will help you build muscle, shed fat and improve your overall health.
- Walking lunges – good for hip stability, balance and an increased range of motion, walking lunges provide a range of benefits. Perform a lunge whilst having a dumbbell in each hand, return to the middle and then repeat with the opposite leg.
- Bicep curl – a classic weight-training exercise, the bicep curl is intended to build muscle in the upper arm. Many HGV occupations will involve a lot of heavy lifting and bicep curls will certainly help with this area.
2. Truck Stops with Gyms
There are a number of truck stops across the UK which have gyms, so whether you’re doing an overnight job or want to fit some exercise in on your break.
3. Exercising Outside of Work
Outside of work, working out doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, you may even discover a passion, or re-instil a love for a past hobby. And it’s certainly doable to balance the demands of being an HGV driver with staying in shape – both Steve and Mark are living examples of this.
Mark doesn’t always work away on overnights, so if he’s home on an evening, he’ll get some lane swimming in 2 to 3 times per week. And when he’s working away, that doesn’t mean his swimming ventures stop altogether. He still makes a conscious effort to fit exercise into his work-life schedule by getting a swimming session in on a Friday evening or at the weekend. To make it even more fun, Mark said:
“Every 2-3 weeks, I also try and get down to beach to do some sea swimming!”
If you’re into cycling, take some time to research scenic cycling routes nearby. Mark not only does this to stay fit and healthy but to exercise his mind too:
“Getting out on the bike surrounded by nice scenery is really good for your mental health.”
Steve admits it’s not easy balancing the demands of the job with fitness but where possible will find the time to get out and active, whether it be on the bike, walking or playing golf from time to time. He said:
“Most of this is done evenings and weekends (3/4 times a week). Lorry driving in itself is a physically demanding job largely when you are moving the load on and off the lorry.”
By opting for healthier food choices and creating a workout routine which suits your schedule, you’ll not only relieve stress but reap countless health benefits from maintaining a healthy weight to prolonging life expectancy. We recommend keeping a daily journal of what you’ve eaten and the workouts you’ve done. By doing this, you’ll be able to easily spot what unhealthy diet patterns you may have, or what makes you skip a workout.
1 in 5 accidents on major roads are as a result of fatigue and this statistic makes getting enough rest as commercial driver all the more important. For lorry drivers to maintain their health, getting a good night’s sleep is just as crucial as exercising and eating well. You can ensure this in the following ways:
- Sunlight exposure – where possible, make sure you’re getting out of your vehicle to soak up the rays on your breaks. This will help to keep your natural body clock healthy, improving the quality of your sleep and daytime energy levels.
- Blue light exposure – being exposed to blue light from your phone or tablet can lead to your body clock becoming out of sync which can then impact your sleep. Adjust the settings on your phone and try to have a couple of hours without your device before bed. There are other ways to wind down before bed as Mark suggests: “I tend to read a lot and when I am parking up in the evening, I try and find somewhere with a nice scenery as a bit of escapism – sunset, fields, animals to look at.”
- Reduce caffeine intake – caffeinated drinks can have negative impacts on the quality of your sleep. Avoid drinking fizzy drinks, coffee and energy drinks before bed as their high levels of caffeine can keep you awake at night. Over time, regularly drinking caffeine can actually work in the opposite way it’s intended for, leading to fatigue. That’s why Mark has cut out caffeine entirely, and he has seen benefits from this: “I don’t drink caffeine – or any fizzy drinks with caffeine in – which definitely helps. Drivers tend to drink a lot of caffeine to stay awake… I don’t get as tired anymore because I am not reliant on it, and you don’t suffer from those caffeine ups and downs.”
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
Being behind the wheel, particularly if you’re doing long hours, can make it easy to snack and indulge – especially when the roads are lined with fast food outlets. And with a large part of driving involving being sedentary, it makes your food intake all the more important. Past research by Morrison NuMe revealed the following about the UK’s HGV drivers:
- Almost a quarter primarily eat their meals from transport cafes, service stations, depots or fast-food shops.
- Nearly a third snack on biscuits, and more than a fifth snack on crisps on a daily basis.
- 70% confessed that they don’t eat fruit daily, and on average, only eat three of their five a day.
By preparing your own meals in advance, you can ensure you’re eating nutritiously balanced meals. If you’re working away, you can still keep on top of your healthy regime by taking portable cooking appliances with you, and Mark is living proof of this:
“I take a fridge with me and a little camping stove. I will prep my evening meals ahead of time – it’s not only healthier but saves money as well.”
Mark also takes a range of healthy ingredients with him, getting his 5 a day in with chopped up vegetables and fruit, as well as staples such as cheese and eggs. He explained that his evening meals typically consist of:
“… freshly cooked up omelette and salad, bean chilli, and things like that.”
Remember that breakfast is largely considered one of the most important meals of the day according to research. And Steve agrees with this:
“Foodwise, it all starts with breakfast which usually consists of some yoghurt (Bio) and an egg on toast.”
There are a huge variety of healthy and easy meals and snacks to prep for the road. You could even practice being vegetarian a couple of times a week. This worked for Mark, as it instantly reduced his intake of the typical go-to ‘unhealthy’ foods, and now he’s been vegetarian for 30 years. However, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian or not, he believes that eating healthily is achievable:
“No matter your diet preference, you can prep healthy meals and go-to snacks in advance.”
But eating healthily doesn’t have to be a chore, and you can make allowances when it comes to snacks, providing you do it in moderation. Mark told us:
“If I get a bit peckish, I’ll go for fruit like bananas, grapes – I absolutely love peanuts but try not to have too many! They’re my treat.”
Granted, there may be times where you haven’t had time to prepare your meals, so in these instances, avoid drive-thrus and fast-food shops, and instead head to a supermarket or service station. Many service stations have a good food selection due to partnerships with brands. For example, the Morrisons EatSmart and Nourish range were designed to show that eating healthier doesn’t have to mean sacrificing on taste or taking a long time to prepare.
If you’re looking for more healthy meal ideas, as well as inspiration for portable cooking appliances, Driver Hire Training compiled a list of the essentials needed for the road.
Staying hydrated is essential when it comes to maintaining your fitness and health as a HGV driver. Even mild dehydration can impair brain performance as well as impact mood and energy levels negatively. The Mayo Clinic states that men should be drinking 15 and a half cups of water per day, and 11 and a half cups per day for women – drinking an adequate amount of water has also been proven to help with weight loss.
Instead of having to keep buying bottles of water, which is also bad for environment, buy a large refillable water container. This way you can ensure you’re getting the recommended intake of water throughout the day.
Looking After Your Mental Health
When it comes to staying fit and healthy on the road, it’s not just the physical aspect that’s important, as the mental wellbeing of HGV drivers is equally as important. Mental health charity MIND did a presentation at the Talent in Logistics Conference 2017, revealing that 30% of self-reported work-related illnesses within the transport and logistics industry stemmed as a result of stress, depression and/or anxiety. In reality, since this data was self-reported, and with the stigma that exists around mental health, particularly amongst men, the figures may be higher. Fortunately, NatCen Social Research for the Department of Transport highlighted the link between physical and mental health, reporting that an intervention to improve physical health may also benefit mental health.
Driving can be a taxing at times, so it’s essential to keep your mind active. You can keep your mind alert whilst on the road in a number of ways. Audiobooks, podcasts and music are fantastic options when it comes to stimulating your mind. Apps such as Spotify have a great variety of music and podcasts, as well as Audible which provides a good selection of audiobooks, so there’s bound to be something you like.
It’s also important to de-stress and relax when you’re away from work. If you’re in need of a little inspiration, Steve told us how he likes to unwind:
“I enjoy spending time in the garden.”
And when Mark has some downtime, he makes sure that he remains socially connected:
“Like lots of people, I love socialising so go along to the pub with my friends, enjoy my live music and going to see bands at gigs.”
Information was sourced using case studies of HGV drivers from Driver Hire’s Plymouth office to provide:
- Expert advice on how to stay fit and healthy on the road as an HGV driver
This source of information allowed us to offer real-life insight into how commercial drivers can look after themselves, using evidence to prove that maintaining health and fitness is as manageable for HGV drivers as it is for anyone else. For full details on research results and links, see original post on Driver Hire Training website.