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Life on the road can be tough, but there are some simple ways to offset its ill effects.
In addition to the hazards of the road, long-haul truckers are some of the most susceptible to a wide array of health conditions—ranging from obesity, heart disease, and diabetes to anxiety and depression. These health conditions stem from long hours behind the wheel, often disconnected from a home base that is conducive to making healthier decisions.
Even the tiniest healthy choices can make all the difference.
Living healthier doesn’t happen overnight, but also doesn’t require turning your life upside down. In this piece, we’re including 16 simple tips—ideas designed to take steps towards a healthier, happier life on and off the road.
We will divide these tips into the categories of:
Food—not to be confused with the loaded word “diet”—is simply what you choose to eat on a daily basis. Eating tasty food that also makes you feel better for doing so doesn’t have to be too difficult. Let’s dive in.
Tip 1. Hit the grocery store before a long haul.
It is tempting to simply eat whatever the road has to offer. However, consider how certain foods make you feel an hour or two after you eat them. For this reason, it’s not a bad idea to consider what foods leave you feeling energized rather than spent. Jot those down and make a quick trip to the grocery store to grab them before you get hungry.
Tip 2. Visit the produce aisle for road snacks.
You don’t have to be a tree-hugging vegetarian to have a few favorite fruits and vegetables. Before your next long haul, walk through the produce aisle of the nearest grocery store. Forget shopping lists for right now—just trust your own eyes, nose, and memory for snackable items. Apples, bananas, grapes, or strawberries can make great snacks that don’t leave you feeling depleted miles down the road. Roasted nuts and seeds are great snacks as well, though you’ll want to avoid the heavily processed and overly salted stuff to stay feeling great.
Tip 3. Remember the healthy “rib stickers” when choosing food on the road.
When most of us think of eating healthy, we envision having to eat rabbit food. However, there are several tasty foods that actually aren’t too bad for you. Natural peanut butter (the kind that just says “peanuts, salt” on the ingredients list), hard-boiled eggs, pouches of tuna, more natural cheeses, and certain trail mixes are all foods that stick to your ribs without dragging you down.
Tip 4. Opt for beverages with the fewest ingredients.
The more you add to your drinks, the more you’re adding to your midsection. For this reason, it’s best to choose road beverages with the fewest ingredients. Don’t be afraid to seek out higher-quality coffee if it means not having to add anything to it for a great taste. Unsweet iced tea can be a great pick-me-up in the afternoons that doesn’t leave you craving snacks. But the real winner is water. You’ll be surprised how much water you’ll habitually drink just by keeping it handy.
*Bonus beverage tip: Keep less healthy drinks in the back of the fridge.
We’re not saying you can’t have the occasional soda or beer, but if they’re the first thing you see when opening the fridge door, you’re more likely to grab one out of habit. Placing them in the back of the fridge ensures that they’ll be there when you actually want one.
Tip 5. Downgrade your food portions before eating.
Most of us don’t eat food that is incredibly unhealthy, we simply eat too much of it—and restaurants are often overzealous with portions. The next time you stop for a meal at a restaurant, consider either asking for a lunch portion or asking for a to-go box with the meal. When the meal comes out, dish out a portion of it into the to-go box and eat what’s left. You’ll not only be surprised how satisfied you feel after creating an empty plate, but you’ll also have a box of leftovers for lunch the next day or dinner for that evening.
Tip 6. Stay fuller for longer with higher fiber foods.
Some foods are tasty, but leave you unsatisfied. To avoid this cotton candy syndrome, you can opt for higher fiber foods that leave you feeling fuller for longer. Raw nuts, beans, brown rice, fresh fruit, roasted vegetables, and fresh salads are not only satisfying but also won’t leave you feeling peckish later.
From a health perspective, it’s true what they say—sitting is the new smoking. Unfortunately, until stand-up truck cabs are a thing, truckers can’t help but sit most of the day. There are easy ways to help offset the negative effects of sitting most of the day that leave you feeling refreshed and don’t demand too much time or effort.
Tip 7. Make walking a game with step-count challenges.
While walking doesn’t seem like a monumental feat, it has monument benefits. Walking not only helps you stretch your legs and get some blood flowing to your keister once again, but a regular habit of walking has also been shown to help increase heart health, lower blood sugar, boost your immune system, and relieve joint pain.
To keep walking feeling less like a chore and more like a fun game, consider setting a daily step number goal for yourself that you can track with a cheap sports tracker watch or even with a free mobile app to track your steps from your pocket—whether you have an iPhone or Android device. And yes, walking in place while your truck refuels counts!
Tip 8. Revisit physical activities you liked when you were younger.
Most of us had a form of physical activity we enjoyed as a child or teenager—something that demanded a lot of movement, but that we saw simply as a good time. Why did we give it up?!
See if you can revisit this activity in some capacity. From skipping rope like a prizefighter to bringing a basketball to shoot the occasional hoops, keeping activity fun is a great way to make movement something you look forward to rather than a chore. Yes, you’ll likely become winded, but you’ll feel great for the road ahead. The most important aspect of this is to move your body while having fun.
Tip 9. Look at nationwide gym membership programs—with showers!
As a truck driver on the road, it can seem hard to find the time or the place to break a sweat. It is also tricky to find a place with showers that aren’t less than appealing. Finding a great nationwide gym can help you kill these two birds with one stone.
For a low monthly rate, you can sign up for a gym membership that not only allows you to work off hours of sitting behind the wheel but also a place to get a shower that isn’t a truck stop or a motel. Places like Planet Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness have gyms all over the country as well as showers aplenty. Treat yourself to some reinvigorating movement and a nice hot shower at the end of your day.
Tip 10. Use workout apps to increase fitness accountability with far-flung friends.
It can be hard to feel motivated to move your body when you’re not with like-minded friends. Accountability is virtually non-existent and sleeping in is the easier choice.
What if you and your friends not only had shared fitness goals but could also look in on each other’s progress? Would that help you dust off your sneakers? Well, thanks to fitness community apps like Strava, you can post your progress for all to see…or just a few. Once you're set up with a group of buddies, you can scroll through their progress, lend support in a comments section, or, you know, bust each other’s chops for slackin’ off—which we all know is way more fun.
For long-haul truck drivers, the road can be a stressful and lonely place. Working long, dangerous hours far from home can take its toll on your peace of mind. The following tips contain helpful ways to relieve the stress and anxiety associated with truck driving as well as life in general.
Tip 11. Unload your thoughts into the pages of a journal.
Some of history’s greatest leaders and minds poured their thoughts into journals—from Roman Emperor philosopher Marcus Aurelius to General George Patton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Theodore Roosevelt. Regular journaling is a fantastic practice for unloading thoughts for either further analysis or simply to offload them from your mind.
How to get started journaling:
- Find a writing utensil and any piece of paper, notepad, or formal journal if you’d like. Even a note-taking phone application works just fine.
- Before you start your day, when you find time to yourself, or as you begin to wind your day down, jot down thoughts, stories, problems, or really anything else bouncing around in your head.
- Try to make a habit of doing this daily—as much or as little as you’d like.
Before long, you’re likely to find yourself looking forward to dumping some of your daily thoughts into your trusty journal. Doing so can give you a completely new perspective on your life.
Tip 12. Give Mindfulness Meditation a shot to settle your thinking.
Yes, we can almost hear your eyeballs rolling into the back of your head as soon as we mention anything as kooky as “meditation.” And no, this kind of meditation doesn’t involve folding your legs like a pretzel on a mountain top or saying, “ooommm.” The kind of meditation we’re talking about is an extremely simple technique practiced by the likes of the U.S Army and police departments across the country—and, yes, even by truck drivers.
What good does meditation do? First and foremost, meditation allows you to better manage your thought process. A regular meditation practice has been proven to help with a range of ailments— everything from anxiety and depression to insomnia, and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
How does meditation work? Here’s a short starter tutorial on Mindfulness Meditation:
- Sit down with your back straight in a quiet, comfortable place.
- Set a timer on your phone or watch for 5-10 minutes.
- Close your eyes.
- Bring your complete focus to the sensation of your breathing—especially the feeling of air entering and exiting your nostrils.
- Anytime you notice your mind wandering to anything other than the feeling of your breath, realize that your mind has wandered, and return to focusing on the air entering or exiting your nostrils.
Yep, that’s about it. And for something so simple, this modest act has helped countless people manage negative thoughts for thousands of years.
For more meditation help:
There are many great books (including audiobooks) and mobile applications dedicated to teaching you how to meditate as well as guided meditations to help you keep your practice going. A great audiobook on the subject is entitled Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris. Some helpful mobile applications include Ten Percent Happier, Waking Up, and Calm.
Tip 13: Prioritize proper sleep above all else.
Among any good habits you work toward, there is one that takes the cake—getting adequate sleep. As a truck driver, you likely already understand that drowsy driving can be deadly. One study found that between 2001 and 2003, around 13% of all large truck crashes involved fatigued drivers.
Other than keeping you alert behind the wheel, adequate sleep is necessary for pretty much every bodily function. From helping the immune system to heart health, reducing the likelihood of dementia, proper digestion, liver function, regulating blood sugar, reproductive health, and dramatically reducing the likelihood of several forms of cancer, as sleep scientist Matthew Walker puts it, “Sleep is your superpower.”
Here are a few tips on making sure you’re getting your recommended seven or more hours of sleep per night:
- Get serious about a specified bedtime.
- About an hour before bed, avoid electronic screens—which emit sleep-hindering blue light. Opt for a book or relaxing music instead.
- Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after about 5 PM and alcohol before sleep. Alcohol seems like it should help, but the process of metabolizing it can leave you tossing and turning.
- Darken your sleep space with black-out blinds or a blindfold-style sleep mask.
- If you find yourself unable to sleep, get up do something that doesn’t require a screen—read a book, write in a journal, write on a postcard, work on a puzzle, play solitaire with a deck of cards, or some other activity—until you get tired enough to return to sleep.
Tip 14. Seek out like-minded communities on the road.
The road can be a lonely place—a feeling that can negatively impact your day-to-day mood. However, with a little bit of planning, a little break to spend some time with like-minded folks can leave you feeling hopeful and refreshed. Whether this is a similar faith community or just a meet-up of people with similar interests, being in the company of your “tribe” can do wonders for your mood. There are a few ways to do this:
- Search online for similar faith communities along your routes to visit.
- Use social media groups or forum pages to find in-person group meetups based around a similar interest—from running clubs to car shows and beyond.
- Look to see what different speaker events are happening nearby—many of which are free to attend.
Tip 15. Prearrange your communications with family and friends back home.
Days behind the wheel can make your home feel even further away, making communication a must. However, life happens and not everyone can drop what they’re doing to catch up on the phone or over some form of video chat. Still, with just a little bit of planning, you can increase your chances of staying connected to the people that mean the most to you.
Use Google Calendar to schedule catchups.
Instead of hoping a friend or loved one will be available to shoot the breeze, arranging a time with them makes sure that both of you will be able to find a time that works best. Simply create an event on a Google Calendar and send them an invite with all of the important details in the event description—including any relevant phone numbers, video chat credentials (Zoom IDs, etc.), and the like. Inform them that they can set event reminders at scheduled intervals so the meeting doesn't catch them off guard. You'll find that these plans not only increase the likelihood of attending these catch up sessions, but also give you something to look forward to days before they occur.
Surprise family and friends with the periodic postcard.
In this digital age, sending a text message to someone takes little effort at all. While receiving a text message is nice, when was the last time you received some snail-mail that wasn’t a bill or junk? The next time you’re at a special location, keep an eye out for postcards. Sending a loved one or a friend a special message or shared inside joke via the mail will not only brighten their day but is guaranteed to leave you with a warm feeling as you travel on down the road.
Forming Good Habits for Truckers
Tip 16. Read or listen to the ultimate book on forming positive habits.
The process of replacing bad habits with good ones is a great way to increase your quality of life on the road as a truck driver. And while the internet is filled with every guide imaginable about forming good habits, there is one book that comes highly recommended by most who have read it: Atomic Habits by James Clear.
In Atomic Habits, Clear lays the foundation of why we have bad habits, how adjusting our habits often require changing how we see ourselves and he provides an extremely practical roadmap for developing good habits that will serve us for many years to come.
You can acquire Atomic Habits through Clear’s website in physical, digital, or audiobook form. Before you go to buy the digital or audiobook versions, you may actually be able to check them out for free using your local library card account.
It can feel easy to let the road wear you down and succumb to whatever food, activity (or lack thereof), or thought process that requires the least amount of effort. However, simply replacing a few bad habits with better choices can often make the difference between a bad and good quality of life for long-haul truck drivers on the road.
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