Sitting in isolation for long stretches of time can lead transportation workers to develop serious health issues. However, union trustees have an opportunity to minimize the risks by sharing practical trucking industry health tips with your union members.
Here's how to help your members in the trucking industry stay healthy when they set out on the road.
Health Risks for Transportation Workers
Awareness is the first step: When you understand which conditions may be exacerbated on the road, you can offer the right trucking industry health tips, as well as general transportation industry health advice, to your members.
Heart conditions and blood clots. Sedentary jobs have increased by 83% since 1950 — meanwhile, physically active occupations now make up less than 20% of all U.S. jobs. One study showed that bus drivers who sit for long periods of time have a higher risk of developing heart disease. A sedentary lifestyle often leads to heart problems partly because a lack of movement can increase blood pressure. Inactivity also encourages blood clots, which, if they form in the coronary arteries, can cause a heart attack. Clots in large, deep veins in the arms, legs or pelvis can cause their own medical emergencies. As many as 900,000 Americans develop a deep-vein thrombosis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 die as a result.
Diabetes. People who are chronically inactive more easily develop problems with glucose control, which increases their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Poor eating habits on the road don't help, either. After food breaks down in the body and glucose enters our bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that lets glucose into our cells to give them energy. Inactive bodies can develop insulin resistance, allowing more food to be turned into extra fat instead of energy.
Depression and anxiety. The New York Times called loneliness an epidemic. Researchers have found evidence linking this feeling of disconnection to both physical illness and cognitive and functional decline — to the point that loneliness surpasses obesity as a predictor of early death. The depression and anxiety resulting from loneliness can be severe. Loneliness also contributes to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke and causes levels of a hormone called cortisol to spike, affecting the mind and immune system.
How to Help Your Members
As a union leader, you can help members manage these conditions by encouraging them to learn more about healthy living and treatment options.
Encourage healthy habits. Healthy eating habits can help prevent conditions likes diabetes and heart disease from developing in the first place. Encourage members to choose low-fat snacks on the road — such as an apple or some celery sticks — rather than sugary, high-fat treats. Simple exercises can also help prevent blood clots. Transportation workers should take breaks whenever possible to move more. For example, encourage them to stretch and touch their toes during pit stops. While sitting, members can flex their calves, ankles and thighs to keep blood moving and prevent clots. Members can also track their activity using a fitness tracker to see whether they take the recommended 10,000 steps a day. Try to provide a range of health resources, especially for members who are overweight or who smoke
Destigmatize seeking mental health support. Remind members that if they're struggling with depression, there are ways for them to get help. Telehealth services are convenient and confidential, and members can schedule video calls with a psychologist or other type of therapist on their own time, whether during a lunch break or at a rest stop.
Provide opportunities and support for social engagement. Greater social connection can alleviate feelings of isolation. Urge members to spend quality time with friends and family members in person in addition to catching up over email or text. You may also send out a list of suggested social groups, such as recreational sports teams or book clubs, or initiate volunteer opportunities for your members. Helping others can provide both meaning and connection.
Healthy workers are happier, and they're more productive. Long stretches out on the road can pose risks for members who work in transportation. But by being proactive about sharing trucking industry health tips and resources that keep your members safe, you can help them optimize their health.