A recent study of the top 35 occupations has found that drivers have up to a three fold risk of getting type 2 diabetes than some other occupations.
Why might this be? Can you get high blood sugar just because you spend so much time behind the wheel?
Well yes, if you don’t understand and manage the important lifestyle factors and here’s why:
- A drivers job can be stressful and stress hormones can raise blood sugar which can contribute to diabetes. Timetable pressures, dealing with bad traffic and dealing with the public can all add up to a lot of stress. Add to this stressful relationships with work colleagues, financial pressures, personal relationship challenges, health fears or grief. Everyone has stressful times in their lives but constant stress can be a real threat to health.
- Most drivers only sit while working and while this may be the same for office workers it’s just not so easy for you to stand up and do 10 squats or run up and down a stairs to get your circulation moving! Your body need movement throughout the day just as much as it needs a decent bout of exercise. All of this is relevant to blood sugar and heart health.
- Most drivers do shift work – One study showed that those who have done rotating shift work for ten years have up to a 40% increased risk and 20 years of shift work can increase risk by a whopping 60%. This is a feature of the job but it’s important to have shifts as consistent as possible and rest must be prioritised as well everything else mentioned below.
- Eating ‘on the go’. Many drivers have no option but to get takeaway meals or bring their own packed meals/snacks/drinks. There is no denying that what we eat has a huge impact on blood sugars and on increasing your risk of a diabetes diagnosis. Going for the easy option of fast food or processed food that’s low in vital nutrients and fibre even a few times a week can put you at higher risk particularly when you have other risk factors at play or if you are overweight.
While it’s not easy to change a lot of this you really need to do what you can to protect your health and your job. It’s time to flip the script!
First here’s some big reasons why it’s so important followed by what you can do:
- Diabetes is a main cause of vision impairment and blindness. For drivers good vision is imperative for your own safety and those around you. Blurry eyesight is often the first sign of diabetes, it can often be reversed by getting your sugars under tight control by making necessary changes. If you have consistent uncontrolled sugars it will worsen.
- Erectile Dysfunction is often not mentioned but up to 75% of men with diabetes can suffer from erectile dysfunction and can often be the first symptom of diabetes, regardless of age. It happens despite having normal amounts of hormones and the desire to have sex. The reason is that the blood vessels and nerves needed to control an erection are damaged from high blood sugars.
- Diabetes can triple your chance of getting heart disease or a stroke. Those with diabetes tend to get heart disease at a younger age and it tends to be the most common cause of premature death in people with diabetes.
There’s many other reasons, unfortunately medical and emotional complications are common in diabetes but the great news is that you have the power to avoid a diagnosis and all of the health issues it can bring.
Here’s 5 things to do that will help combat your risk as a driver:
- You may not be able to change your shift work but prioritising sleep will reap real rewards. When possible get up at the same time every day even if it’s earlier than you need to be up sometimes. Your body works best on a routine and your sleep will be better. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours, avoid screens (especially devices like phones, tablets and laptops) for at least an hour before sleeping. Why? Because they emit blue light which tricks your eyes into thinking its daylight – it downregulates your sleep hormones and makes it harder to fall into a deep sleep and stay sleeping.
- Write down everything that is causing you stress right now. Then beside it write what you can do to change it. Some things you just can’t change but you can change how to react to anything. Do you need to spend less time with someone that’s upsetting you? Is it time to say “no” a bit more? Maybe you’re tired which is making your stress worse? You have to decide that your health comes first. You are better to everyone including yourself if you are not stressed. Learn to take lots of deep breaths and start thinking about what best helps your stress. Go for lots of walks and take time out for yourself. Simple breathing techniques can help enormously and prioritising your mental health will also help your blood sugar regulation.
- There is no getting away from the fact that what we eat and drink is what has the biggest effect on our blood sugar. If you are someone that puts on weight around your middle then you’re in the risk zone. By trying to take the healthier option many people buy diet drinks, fruit juice or drinks that are labelled ‘no added sugar. Unfortunately they are not as healthy as claimed to be. Diet fizzy drinks can increase your risk of diabetes and fruit juices can have the equivalent of up to 8 spoons of sugar! Drink water, tea’s & coffee. Green tea is beneficial for blood sugar control. It takes getting used to but try a few different brands until you find one you like. There is a little caffeine in it, usually about half of that in a regular tea.
- Eating less bread, white rice, white flour and pasta is what can help blood sugars and weight management so much easier. They have a similar effect to sugar. So if lunch has to be a sandwich, have thin slices of bread or a small wrap (preferably brown) instead of a bread-roll. Ideally bring your own lunch box – stuff a wholemeal pitta bread with cheese, tomatoes, avocado, raw carrots and peppers and hummus or bring dinner leftovers that can be eaten cold. If you like cold egg or some chicken/tinned salmon/tuna that’s a quick and easy lunch and easy to add to the above. Limit the amount of processed food and increase the more filling foods that you can make quickly yourself. Nuts are great too but unfortunately not the regular salted peanuts (because of the awful oil they use). Adding some raw spinach leaves is also super easy and adds lots of nutrition. Fast food, ready made pizza’s etc will spike your blood sugar, deplete your immune system, cause weight gain and you’ll be hungry again in an hour!! Where’s the joy in that?!
- Keep on Moving. There’s so much focus on exercise and yes it’s important but it’s also important that we move during the day. If it’s walking on the spot, stretching or taking a brisk ten minute walk – it all counts for your blood sugar and your heart health. Recent headlines about ‘sitting being the new smoking’ were claiming that the health risks of not exercising are worse than smoking. In the ideal world we should not sit for longer than an hour without moving. As a driver this can be challenging but find as many creative ways to be active throughout your day as possible. It will make a difference.