May 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm EDT | by Kevin M. Norris
Clean living and HIV longevity

One year ago, I wrote about HIV and exercise and how crucial a component exercise has become for the treatment of HIV. I interviewed several subjects asking them to comment on what exercise has done for their diagnosis of this chronic and often life-threatening illness and all of them agreed that exercise was a contributing factor to their mental and physical well-being.

In this article I will focus more on HIV longevity and what “clean living” means to long-term survivors of HIV and how clean living has sustained their lives and quality of life.

Each person in this article was diagnosed in the late 1980s at a time when HIV was considered a death sentence and there were no medications for treatment.

Dr. Jose Mendoza, age 35, HIV positive since 1989

Dr. Jose Mendoza was diagnosed at 13 years of age as the result of a blood transfusion for a surgery. He was told he had three months to live. He was further diagnosed with AIDS in 1997 with advanced pneumonia from which he fully recovered while taking the latest HIV medications.

Mendoza was born and raised in Venezuela where HIV medications were difficult to obtain. And while Mendoza may have seemed too young to care for himself, he was both an accomplished ballet student and began taking Tae Kwan Do after his HIV diagnosis. Those two disciplines and the fact that he never took recreational drugs or engaged in unsafe sex he believes kept him alive.

Today, Mendoza thrives because of the same discipline including eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and drinking alcohol in moderation.

Donald Aucoin, age 59, HIV positive since 1988

Donald Aucoin was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 — 23 years ago when HIV was generally a death sentence. Aucoin was also diagnosed at a time when there were not HIV medications for treatment, but again only for when you got sick, so there was no treatment protocol.

Aucoin had to take his health into his own hands. Foremost, Aucoin believes that his sobriety from drugs, alcohol and cigarettes since 1979 is what keeps him alive and what he believes has contributed significantly to his longevity.

Exercise and eating well would be his other contributions to his longevity. In 1990, Aucoin joined DC Strokes, the gay rowing team and began rowing. He became an accomplished rower and participated in the Gay Games in Amsterdam in 1998, 10 years after his diagnosis and supposed imminent death sentence.

Today, on the brink of turning 60, Aucoin is living proof that taking care of yourself is crucial to not only surviving, but thriving.

Steve Lee, age 52, HIV positive since 1986

Steve Lee shares some notable similarities with both Aucoin and Mendoza. Lee was diagnosed in 1986, again at a time when medications were reserved for those sick with full-blown AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses. Lee has been clean and sober from drugs and alcohol since 1985.

Lee was not an athlete and only joined a gym after his diagnosis. He then began weight training and moved to Washington, D.C., in April of 1989 where he was introduced to the gay gym scene that would encourage more exercise. Lee also became a runner in Front Runners and would go on to enter his first marathon. He is training to run his third marathon this fall.

In 1994, Lee visited his first Gay Games in New York City and decided he wanted to be a part of the next Gay Games in 1998 in Amsterdam, but was not sure what he would do. Weight training had become a passion so he decided to compete in his first body building competition. He won a silver medal.

Today, like Mendoza and Aucoin, Lee exercises regularly and eats well.

It should be noted that each of these people are also on the latest HAART medication protocol for their respective HIV. HAART is the acronym for “highly active antiretroviral therapy.”

Remarkably, each of these three people has been HIV positive for more than 20 years. They agree that medications, and their clean living coupled with eating well and exercising has allowed them to thrive despite living with a life-threatening illness.

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  • I was diagnosed with HIV back in 1986 after a bad batch of blood to curb a bleed (I have hemophilia too). I agree whole-heartedly with this article. I have found that fitness has not only helped keep me on the pale blue dot we call Earth, but also has helped with joint bleeds and problems. Awesome post!

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