When writing this article I turned to people I knew that are living with HIV and to others who work in the HIV field of medicine and are well-respected authorities. What I quickly discovered is that those living with HIV are a wealth of knowledge and insight and that what they could contribute to this column is far more comprehensive than I could.
As with many physical challenges and illnesses, exercise is crucial both mentally and physically. While exercise does not cure HIV, exercise can be an essential code of behavior for living with HIV. And, just as important, exercise may be able to better manage the side effects associated with HIV medications and the level of compromise to the immune system.
Following are excerpts from interviews I conducted with several HIV-positive people.
Victor, 35, HIV positive since 2005:
“For me, testing HIV positive five years ago was an unwelcome surprise. But one good thing I’ve taken from that experience is realizing the importance of taking responsibility for my health: eating right, exercising regularly and generally being more aware of my health.”
“Good diet and exercise are important to anyone, but for people living with a chronic disease, like HIV, they are even more important. Developing and keeping a storehouse of good health may be the difference between experiencing HIV-related complications in five years, or in 20.”
Anonymous friend, HIV positive since 2003:
“In terms of exercise, I think once a person gets the virus under control with medications it is essential to make working out a part of the treatment process. As far as I know, the essential chemicals that go into almost all HIV meds, among other side effects, tend to cause depression and mood swings. Exercise is perfect for mitigating, at the very least, this side effect especially if the traditional weight lifting is combined with yoga and aerobics. It has been working almost like a miracle for me.”
Daniel, 47, HIV positive since 1987:
“I have always exercised. So, after sero-converting, I continued exercising, not necessarily because I knew it was important and would benefit me in managing my HIV, but rather because it brought me some continuity in my routine and respite in the midst of dealing with my mortality. Today, I definitely feel that exercise has benefited me in managing my HIV in different ways — some physical, some mental and some spiritual.”
A friend and doctor of immunology:
“Exercise cannot control the HIV, but it may help you to fight many of the side effects that follow a new lifestyle where medicine is your best friend.”
Jared, 40, HIV positive:
“We all have the knowledge that working out makes one poz/neg feel better by the release of endorphins and such to the blood stream and the brain. That seeing goals achieved gives one a sense of purpose and achievement. These all help in keeping a positive mindset.”
What resonates most from these testimonials and experiences is that exercise should be a major component of treatment for someone living with HIV.
People are living longer and, through exercise, are living healthier and more productive lives with HIV. I am sure that many factors are at play when living with HIV, but in my experience as a personal trainer and in working with many people who are living with HIV, I believe these individuals have benefitted by integrating exercise into their lives.
To those who not only continue to struggle with HIV, but prevail, thank you for your strength, inspiration and hope. Be well and prosper!
Kevin M. Norris is a health and fitness columnist for the Blade and owner of Mind Your Own Body, LLC Personal Training. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.