How Did I Get This Belly?
The condition that got you in that unhealthy condition
By Siphiwe Baleka
When you got your CDL did anyone tell you that the irregular hours of sleep and interrupted sleep that most long haul commercial drivers deal with would affect your health? Did anyone tell you that the stress of the job would cause a hormonal imbalance? Did anyone tell you about a disease called Metabolic Syndrome that afflicts more than 80 percent of truck drivers?
There’s no hiding the fact that the majority of truck drivers are overweight. Most people blame the drivers, saying that they need to eat healthier and exercise more. Nobody talks about Metabolic Syndrome, a combination of medical disorders that, when occurring together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Every time someone cuts you off or you get caught in a construction zone or a shipper delays you for hours — any event that causes you stress — it sets off a chain of 1,400 biochemical events in your body that release cortisol. Right after the stressful event, the body is supposed to return to a normal condition. However, if a driver remains upset or encounters yet another stressful situation, that excess cortisol is released to prepare the body for “Fight or Flight.” It shuts down blood flow from all areas except the arms and legs, which are needed to punch someone or run. Your vital organs aren’t needed for this and neither is your brain.
So when your day is filled with constant stress, your vital organs are drained and deprived of what they need. This includes your brain. That’s why people do dumb things in the heat of the moment. The cerebral cortex needed for higher reasoning is shut down. The bottom line is that drivers become habituated and immune to stress, which in turn causes suppressed thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances, high blood pressure, lowered immunity, hormonal imbalances and increased abdominal fat.
When you combine this with sleep deprivation from driving the night shift, switching from day driving to night driving, being interrupted by shippers and receivers to walk in your bills of lading, and so on, it causes a decrease in serum leptin and an increase in serum ghrelin. These are the substances that regulate hunger.
Your body doesn’t get the signal to start eating, causing you to skip meals, which slows your metabolism. Or your body doesn’t get the signal to stop eating, leading you to overeat. Either way, you increase your abdominal fat.
Finally, add the fact that physical inactivity leads to increased abdominal fat. According to Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan, people who sit most of the day have a risk of heart attack equal to those who smoke.
So you now begin to understand why truckers are prone to gain weight. Their biochemistry changes as a direct result of their occupation. Fortunately the effects can be reduced by following seven strategies (listed above).
Thirty-one out of 51 drivers in Prime Inc.’s Driver Health and Fitness program lost an average of 19.3 lbs. — or 7.3 percent of their body weight — in just 13 weeks by following the Seven Strategies. One driver lost 60 lbs. without skipping any meals! Another came off of 10 medications! Follow the Seven Strategies and it will work for you, too.
The Seven Strategies
How to reverse Metabolic Syndrome
- No matter what, get 15 minutes of exercise a day.
- Each workout must be vigorous.
- Work multiple muscle groups at the same time.
- Always eat after a workout.
- Eat breakfast. Then eat something every three hours.
- Keep healthy snacks in the truck.
- Log your nutrition and fitness.
Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors
- Sleep deprivation
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Being obese or overweight
Siphiwe Baleka is the Driver Fitness Coach at Prime, Inc. This is his first in a series of columns as Road King’s new Driver Health Editor.