General Health Tips
How to stay healthy and alert at the wheel
Below are some health tips for drivers based on insights from Alexandra Sowa, MD, a doctor in New York City.
It can be tempting to drive a few extra hours for more fares, even if that means giving up some sleep. But this can be unsafe for you and for others on the road. Sleep deprivation can impair judgment and reaction time. Sowa says, “In order for adults to have optimal energy every day, you need seven to nine hours of sleep. For drivers especially, this is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.” And a coffee break can’t replace any of those hours of sleep, Sowa adds. “Caffeine and other stimulants don’t overcome severe sleep deprivation—it just doesn’t work.” It’s best not to drive for more than 14 hours in a 24 hour period.
Being awake for 18 hours has an impairment equal to a blood alcohol content of .05
Being awake for 24 hours has an impairment equal to a blood alcohol content of .10
.05 is considered legally drunk in some Australian and NZ regions.
Spending too long at the wheel, chasing that extra trip, can mean your concentration is reduced, and responses slow down. Taking a short break every few hours will give you time to rest, and ensure that you are alert when you get back in the car. It is also a great way to reset. If you are feeling tired, taking a half hour break and having a power nap can help you in the short term. It’s best to take a break at least every 5 hours when driving.
Driving is sedentary, meaning a seated, inactive job. A completely sedentary lifestyle can put you at increased risk for heart disease and weight gain. But you don’t have to take hours out of your day to exercise to avoid this. According to Sowa, “as little as 10 minutes [of aerobic exercise] a day can help fight off weight gain and problems with your heart.” Aerobic exercise is anything from climbing stairs or jogging to kickboxing or swimming.
We know it can be hard to catch a break between trips, but keep in mind that sitting in the same position without a break isn’t good for you and can cause back, shoulder, or neck pain. The good news? It’s easy to prevent these problems. Sowa recommends stretching frequently, even just getting out of the car and walking around briefly, and that drivers avoid sitting on wallets or other hard objects. Sowa also suggests shopping for back support pillows and cushions, particularly if your car seat doesn’t provide great lower back support.
Drinking water throughout the day is always important. Experts recommend six to eight glasses per day. Even if you’re trying to maximize driving time, don’t skimp on drinking water because you don’t want to take time to find a bathroom. Among other risks, Sowa observes, “you can be prone to kidney stones if you’re dehydrated.”
Carrying luggage or packages for riders is always a nice gesture if you are physically able. Sowa simply cautions, “Don’t bend at the waist, always lift by bending at the knees.” This can protect your back from taking the full weight of what you’re lifting.
No matter how good you may feel, annual checkups are an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Make sure to see a doctor regularly
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