Heart Health is a Major Concern for Truck Drivers

Feb 01, 2015

In the United States February has been designated as American Heart Month. With that in mind, this week's Wellness Wednesday topic is Heart Health.

Heart Health is a Major Problem
The statistics shared by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that heart health is a major problem in the United States. Just take a look at a few facts shared on the CDC website (http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm).

  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing over370,000 people
  • Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.

Statistics like this are frightening and they should cause us to pause and do some self-examination.

Truck drivers are especially at risk for heart disease. Sadly, almost every month there is a story about a truck driver who climbed into his cab to rest for the night and never woke up the next morning. Heart attacks are often the primary cause of this nightmarish scenario.

There are many reasons why being a driver is so hard on the heart. Truck driving is a very demanding job which is hard on both the body and the mind. Factors like long work hours, sleep deprivation, poor diet, lack of exercise, and high amounts of stress all have a negative affect on the health of the heart. Diabetes, smoking, alcohol abuse, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and long periods of sitting are all detrimental to good heart health as well.

Know The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
The CDC website states, "A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart is cut off. Cells in the heart muscle that do not receive enough oxygen-carrying blood begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart."
It is critical to know the warning signs of heart attacks. Some of these signs include

  • Chest discomfort/pressure: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Other symptoms: Shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, and light-headedness.

If you are experiencing any of these warning signs it is critical to call 911immediately. Do not try to just tough it out or push through the pain. Get help. You life could depend on it.

5 Ways You Can Care for Your Heart
There are many things you can do to care for your body and encourage great heart health.

  1. Exercise Daily: This can happen in many different forms. Take brisk 10 minute walk each time you arrive to make a delivery. Join a nationwide fitness club. Do push-ups or jumping jacks each time you get out of your cab. No matter what you do, breaking the habit of spending your entire day sitting in place will make a difference.
  2. Stop Bad Habits: Habits like smoking and alcohol abuse are major risk factors in heart disease. They are also common among truck drivers. Quitting these habits will jump start your heart back towards health.
  3. Eat Healthy Foods: Greasy, high carbohydrate, processed food might taste good and be easy to eat on the road, but it is slowly killing you. One website reports, "Obesity is a common health issue among truck drivers — 73% of drivers are overweight, and 50% are obese." Much of this excess weight is due to the combination of lack of exercise and poor diet choices. Instead of Big Macs and Country Fried Steak you should be looking to eat more vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and low sugar/low carb meals.
  4. Reduce Stress: This may seem impossible for people in the trucking industry but there are things you can do to reduce your stress. Daily exercise, a restful night sleep, good hydration, anticipating obstacles, and talking with a friend are all helpful ways to reduce stress.
  5. Listen to Your Doctor: Regular check-ups are important for understanding your family heart history and establishing a baseline for your heart's health. Once you understand your heart rate,cholesterol, blood pressure, and other fitness metrics you can better make adjustments to your behaviors and habits in the future. Find a doctor you are comfortable with and together create a plan to encourage better heart health in your life.

A Personal Story and Final Request
This is a topic that hits close to home for me. In 1997 when I was a junior in high school my grandfather died of a heart attack after shoveling a heavy snow fall off the driveway. Years later my aunt and father (a truck driver himself) both suffered heart attacks. Thankfully they both survived, but it was a wake-up call to me about the importance of maintaining healthy heart habits.

There is no worse call for a dispatcher to receive than a call from a police officer or truck stop manager about the death of a driver in their parking lot. And there is no worse call for a spouse or a child to receive than a call that their loved one has had a heart attack and passed away. With that in mind, and as American Heart Month comes to a close, would you please take an honest inventory of the condition of your heart and create a plan to make any necessary changes? If you need any resources or assistance with this there are lots of resources out there, and I would be happy to point you in that direct.


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