Recently you may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” Research has begun to link sitting with a number of health concerns including obesity and metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. The thing is, humans are built to stand upright – our heart and cardiovascular system work more effectively when we stand, and the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes in the body related to the breakdown of fats and sugars. When you sit, these processes stall, your body adapts to the reduced physical demand that sitting presents, and your metabolism slows. Long periods of sitting can also increase the risk of the blood in your legs pooling and clotting which is likely to cause complications if the clot does not dissolve and reabsorb. Clearly, sitting is a huge part of truck driving and it’s not going away any time soon. That means it is up to you to combat its negative effects.
One particularly interesting thing that researchers are discovering is that sitting time and time spent doing physical activity/exercise are independent of each other when it comes to our health. This means that an hour of exercise daily will not counteract the effects of excessive sitting. So what do we do with this information? Rather than let it discourage you, it is better to instead focus on achieving both health goals by combining them…sit less AND incorporate regular physical activity. Even a low level of physical activity, such as 10 minutes of daily walking, has been associated with a gain of almost two years of life expectancy. In fact, research shows that standing up for as little as one minute may help lower the health risks of sitting. The main focus here is to look for opportunities to be active that don’t require carving out special time. For example, take a couple extra trips around the truck during safety checks and refueling, or take a couple extra minutes after a bathroom break to stretch out your tight muscles.
Taking a walk is a super simple way to tackle this problem, but incorporating stretches into regular standing breaks can be a great way to also improve circulation and flexibility, reduce stress, and improve health markers such as cholesterol levels. Keeping your back, hamstrings and hip flexor muscles stretched will help them properly support your body weight and avoid joint pain as well as prevent injuries when getting in and out of the truck or while cranking the landing gear. Stretching can also help improve your posture and help you avoid facing spine health issues such as compression in spinal discs. Moreover, people who are stressed often experience contracted muscles as a result. In turn, these tight muscles give a physiological and emotional feeling of tenseness and overall unease that stretching can help to alleviate. As a driver who spends their day sitting with arms outstretched, muscles you should try to target with stretches on a time crunch are your hamstrings, back, shoulders, and neck. Do yourself a favor by sitting less and stretching more so you can spend those long days behind the wheel healthy and pain free!