The best way to live healthy is to start habits early. That is the goal of one Patterson, California, high school truck driving instructor, who has revamped his curriculum with a fitness app to emphasize the benefits of staying active and eating well as a truck driver.
“We want to make sure that those who choose this industry are going to have long and healthy careers,” said Dave Dein, an instructor at Patterson High School.
Through its partnership with the Next Generation in Trucking Association (NGT), The Trucking Fitness Company has given Patterson High School’s CDL students free membership access to its driver fitness app, TruckFit.
TruckFit offers daily five- to 20-minute workouts personalized to the driver’s fitness level that can be completed without the use of equipment. The workouts made for Patterson are similar to those that TruckFit provides its driver and carrier clients. Dein incorporates a daily exercise into each of his lessons, with some workouts involving resistance bands provided by The Trucking Fitness Company.
The workout program was created by Dr. Mark Manera, a physical therapist in St. Louis who wants to change the perception that truck drivers can’t lead healthier lives. He first learned of the industry’s health problems while rehabbing drivers.
“In North America there’s around 4 million people who wake up every morning and drive a truck for a living, and 85% of them are overweight — one in every seven has type 2 diabetes,” Manera said, adding that truck drivers have a life expectancy that is 16 years less than the average population.
“I firmly believe that trucking, or anyone’s career in general, shouldn’t define their health, and that’s kind of why I started the mission that we’re doing, and why I started The Trucking Fitness Company, giving drivers the easiest entry point into exercising on the road and eating healthier,” Manera said.
Dein, a trucker himself, shares a similar vision. He knows it’s easy to develop unhealthy habits in any job, but more so in trucking. Sure, there’s a lot of heavy lifting and hands-on work, but for the most part drivers find themselves sitting for hours on end. The sedentary nature of the gig, along with the lack of healthy food choices along the route, can lead to serious health problems down the road.
The challenge for Dein has been encouraging students not to fall victim to the unhealthy habits that truckers often develop during their careers.
“For some it’s the challenge of creating new habits and having us analyze it,” Dein said. “What are the things that are preventing you from exercising? Because whatever’s preventing you today at school is gonna be the exact same thing that’s gonna prevent you in the future.”
Dein challenges his students to create habits that they can follow throughout the school day, no matter how busy their schedules. For instance, he said that one such habit could be taking five to seven minutes between each class to incorporate some sort of activity.
The fitness program has been a hit in its first year incorporated in Patterson’s curriculum. In addition, Dein said that his students thoroughly enjoy the weekly video lessons that Manera films for the class. Whatever the video’s topic becomes the classes’ exercise topic for the week, which Dein then circles back to every Friday for self-reflection.
“His energy is definitely intoxicating. After watching his videos, I get excited,” Dein said of Manera’s weekly segments. “He’s very well accepted and respected by the students because they see that he’s a very genuine person and shows that he cares.”
Besides showing drivers how to be healthier on the road, one of the biggest challenges for Manera has been helping them shake the mindset that they don’t have time to work out and accepting unhealthy habits as just an aspect of the job.
“You should want to be healthier because there’s so many benefits and reasons to fight back and not just let yourself go,” Manera said, adding that the “time is money” mindset shouldn’t be an excuse for neglecting your physical health.
“Think about the impact that five extra years added to your career would do for you and your family and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that you’d be able to make throughout your whole career if you were able to stay in the truck,” Manera said of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Manera plans to replicate his success with Patterson High School nationwide. He said the plan for next year is to roll out similar exercise programs at every school associated with NGT.
Patterson High School was the fourth high school in the nation to offer CDL training, but the first to do so as part of its general education. Dein, who co-founded NGT in 2020, said the nonprofit has since worked with 43 high schools to start similar CDL programs.
“Every school district’s a little different as far as their timing,” Dein said. “With some it’s going to take six months to get a program off the ground, whereas with others it’s gonna take a year to get off the ground based on finding funding and getting the curriculum approved. But at least we’re having those conversations.”
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