Pump it up: Five cardio tips for truckers

Hope Zvara, CEO of Mother Trucker Yoga

We have all heard the phrase "cardio," we listen to people toss phrases like "get my cardio in," and may have even heard it from our doctor encouraging us to exercise more. But what exactly is "cardio," and what does it do for our bodies? 

Cardio is short for "cardiovascular" and pertains to the heart and blood vessels. When we participate in cardiovascular activities, we engage in aerobic exercises, which means "with oxygen." Typically, cardio involves moving your arms, legs, and hips repeatedly and various tempos to increase your heart rate. And when your heart rate increases, you breathe faster and more deeply; hence you are now with more oxygen. When you breathe deeply, you allow more oxygen to enter your blood. As a result, you can use that oxygen more efficiently and effectively throughout your entire body. 

When you don't get enough cardio exercise

Pump Title 2As a truck driver, you do one thing more than anything else: you sit. The need to get up and get moving is critical to your health and longevity. Rest assured, it doesn't have to mean you have to train for a marathon, not even a 5k. This means you need to find pockets of time to get your heart rate up and increase oxygen to your body.  

If you find yourself getting winded walking up a flight of stairs, getting in and out of your truck, walking into the truck stop, or doing even the smallest of tasks, it might be time to focus a bit more on cardiovascular activities. 

Most people associate high-intensity exercises like running as "cardio," but this isn't the only thing a person can do to increase their cardiovascular health and build up a healthy heart, lungs and get more oxygen to the entire body. As a truck driver, access to a canoe, a bicycle, or a pool to swim in is far and few in between. But that doesn't mean you can't increase your heart rate in the parking lot and even inside your truck. 

 Benefits to cardio exercise

  • Strengthen your heart and muscles
  • Burn calories and help you increase the number of calories your body burns 
  • Help control your appetite
  • Enhances your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain
  • Aids in a better night sleep 
  • Reduce arthritis pain and stiffness in the joint through movement
  • Help prevent or manage high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes
  • Increases your stamina and endurance
  • Improves self-image and body-image

Getting started

Many truckers would tell you that getting exercise in is on the low priorities list, and I believe it is not because they don't want to; it's because their lifestyle isn't as accommodating as that outside of trucking. Now that being said, I didn't say that it's impossible. First, I don't want you to think of the following as "exercise," but rather the intention of moving more and turning up the heat during the things you are already doing and turning them into a cardiovascular activity. 

If you are new to aerobic activity, start small. Every little bit counts, and instead of promising yourself you'll get out and do something for an hour, break it down into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle in cardio throughout the day, and by the end of the day, that will all add up. 

Five simple steps 

Truck step-upsTruck step-upsJust because you don't have easy access to a gym, treadmill, trail, bicycle, or pool doesn't mean you can't find a way to get your heart rate up right where you are parked. Right here, right now, I want you to promise me something, that you will look at exercise and fitness differently from here on out. That fitness is not an all or nothing game. It's not about perfection. You don't need fancy workout clothes, and it doesn't have to be for 60 or even 30 minutes to be effective. Start small. But the key is to start now. The "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" did a study in 2001 and concluded that short, 10-minute bouts of exercise had a similar effect as one long session when it comes to aerobic fitness and weight loss. So lace those shoes up, and let's get moving!

1.)Truck Laps. It may be winter in some states, but get on your hat, gloves, and warm pants and get moving. Challenge yourself to walk as many laps around your truck and trailer as you can in five minutes. If the goal is to increase cardiovascular activity, then don't just move your legs and move your arms. The faster you pump your arms, the faster your legs will go, and your arms control your heart rate just as much as your legs. Find one to three opportunities throughout the day that you can get a quick lap in and try to walk faster than you would otherwise until you get to the point of a breathy conversation. Try to keep that pace for up to five minutes. 

2.)Truck Step-Ups. Your truck step isn't just for getting you up and out of your rig. It also doubles as a piece of cardio equipment. Keep good posture, step up with one foot onto the bottom step of your truck, step up with the other foot, and immediately step down and repeat for one minute to three minutes. Use support if needed and try to keep a consistent pace the entire time. If that is a bit too much for you, stand facing your rig and alternate stepping one foot up onto the step and immediately taking it down and repeating the other leg, never actually fully stepping up onto the truck step with both feet. Don't' forget to use your arms to drive your heart rate up even more. 

Chair runningChair running3.)  Chair Running. This is one of my favorite travel methods to cardio. Whether you have a hip or knee injury, don't have the space to get out and walk around, or you'd rather sit, no, there is no excuse not to get your cardio in. Sitting tall moves you to the edge of your chair. Using your arms to drive your speed begins to move your arms like you are walking and alternate lifting your legs one at a time off the chair. Try not to lean back or round your spine as you alternate lifting your legs and moving your arms. Slowly increase the speed you are chair walking and eventually challenge yourself to the point of non-impact chair running. Set a timer for one minute, three minutes, or break up the time and try to reach a goal of five minutes of cardiovascular activity. 

4.)   Practice Intervals. You can get the most bang for your buck from cardio sessions by doing intervals. You will burn faster and these quick bouts of time go quickly, and before you know it, you're done. Adding in intervals is easy too. As a driver, consider using any of the above and go as hard as you can for 30 seconds. Then slow down and move at a moderate pace for 90 seconds. Once you feel your heart rate recover, go back and hit it hard for 30 seconds and then back down for 90 again. Do this for 5, 10, or 15 minutes, and you will be amazed at how you feel, and the results will surely follow. 

5.)   Step and Lunge. When you don't have a lot of room or a lot of time, lunges are a great way to feel the burn and boost cardiovascular health. Stand tall, step forward with your right foot, and try not to lean your torso forward. Then with that same footstep, back to where you started without leaning back. Try to do three sets with each leg with 10-15 lunges each round. Focus on consistency and pacing. As you gain more stability and strength, add things like hand weights, water jugs, and moves like a bicep curl, overhead raise, or a twist. Play with the lunge by not just trying to step forward, but try stepping backward or to the side as well. No matter what, something is always better than nothing. 

Consistency is key

In the end, the only exercises that work are the ones you do. Furthermore, the most effective workout is the kind that you can do consistently.

You don't need a gym, fancy workout clothes, or a lot of space to move your body in healthy ways and increase your cardiovascular activity choices. Every little bit adds up! Break down your moves into chunks throughout the day. And by the end of the day, you could have done fifteen even twenty-five extra minutes of movement. Just remember to get up and move as often as you can to stay healthy and sane while out on the road. 

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Hope Zvara is a yoga, movement and lifestyle expert who is also a nationally recognized speaker and best-selling author and is the  CEO of Mother Trucker Yoga.  She also hosts radio show titles “A Daily Dose of Hope” and focuses on the well-being of truck drivers implementing programs that speak to both the body and mind.  Providing drivers with a more fulfilling lifestyle by improving their health, mobility and mental point of view.  For more information visit www.MotherTruckerYoga.com