Living with HIV / AIDS - What You Need To Know
What People With HIV Should Know About Exercising
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Exercise can improve just about every aspect of your life — but if you have HIV, it ushers in two major benefits: It helps protect your heart and your bones.
People living with HIV have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and heart disease than people without HIV, says Virginia Triant, MD, MPH, a physician specializing in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The reason: Both the virus itself and medications used to treat HIV can cause bone loss, while people with HIV have higher rates of heart disease risk factors, such as abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, says Dr. Triant.
Exercise not only helps strengthen your bones, says Anne Behr, RN, a nurse clinician educator at the West Virginia University Positive Health Clinic in Morgantown, but it can also lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, while preventing and controlling your risk for diabetes.
Another benefit: Staying active can also boost your mental health. When HIV-positive people take up aerobic and resistance exercise, they not only improve their strength and fitness levels, but they also enhance their quality of life, according to a large research review published in 2019 in the journalBMC Infectious Diseases.
The Risks of Exercise
If you're HIV-positive, your risks from exercise are similar to those of the average person, Triant says. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Overuse injuries or muscle strains and sprains, which can lead to a prolonged healing time
- Loss of body mass from overexercising
But "the benefits of exercise for people living with HIV far outweigh the risks," Triant says. Just make sure that you're properly hydrated and know how to use the equipment properly and safely. Talk with your doctor if you experience any worrisome or unexpected symptoms during exercise, she recommends.
If you've been sedentary for a long period of time, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider prior to beginning an exercise routine. Once you get the OK, start slowly to avoid injuring yourself. "I see patients take on too much, too soon, and strain something or have general muscle soreness,” Behr says. “Then they decide that they shouldn’t be exercising."
There's nothing wrong with starting out with just a few minutes a day. "Any amount of exercise can be beneficial," Triant says. Keep it simple and slow at first and remember that you can push yourself more as your fitness level improves. "One of the simplest recommended exercises to start with is walking," Triant says.
The American Heart Association recommends doing a combination of aerobic activity and strengthening exercises, the same guidelines that are recommended for people without HIV. As you increase workout time and intensity, keep these goals in mind:
- Aim to do moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like brisk walking) at least five days a week for at least 30 minutes a day or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (like running) three days a week for at least 25 minutes a day.
- In addition, do strength-training exercises two or three times a week, targeting all the different muscle groups.
Find exercises that you really enjoy doing and that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine, Triant suggests. And remember to mix it up. "Variety is important to prevent overuse injuries as well as boredom," Behr says.
In warmer weather, try going to a local track or park; when the weather doesn't cooperate, head indoors to the closest mall, Behr recommends.
Strength-training exercises can be done with only your own body weight — push-ups and planks, for example. Or, you might like working out with an inexpensive set of light weights or resistance bands.
Twenty years ago, there was less focus on physical activity for people with HIV, Behr says.
Video: HIV / AIDS and Infections - What You Need To Know
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