If you're living with HIV then regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to help you look and feel better.
During exercise our bodies release natural chemicals to make us feel good. This means that exercise can help relieve stress, tiredness, tension, anxiety and depression.
Exercise is good for our heart, lungs, circulation, mobility and posture and moderate exercise can also help to strengthen our immune systems.
Exercise is the best way to improve your cardiovascular health, and for people living with HIV, looking after the heart should be an important long-term goal.
If you have ever or do currently experience any of the following, you should know that exercise could benefit you in all these areas:
- Lack of appetite due to anxiety or as a side effect of medication
- Regular upper respiratory tract infections (chest infections)
- Fatigue performing daily activities, whether caused by medication, stress or being out of condition after an illness
- Difficulty getting a satisfying night's sleep
- Muscular wasting and/or a decrease in strength
- Increase in fat and/or high cholesterol/lipid levels
- High blood pressure
- Stress, anxiety or mild depression
- Negative feelings about yourself or your body
- Decreased bone mineral density (osteoporosis)
Exercise can restore a person to a better state of health than before the onset of a chronic illness, can help alleviate medication side effects, and has also been linked to longer survival time.
If you're an older adult you may find that some of the issues above are common amongst your age group, whether HIV-positive or not. However, age should not be a barrier to taking up an exercise programme to combat these issues.
It's always worth checking with your HIV Specialist or GP whether there are any forms of exercise that would not be good for you, or for any reasons that you should not exercise. However, unless you have other conditions which might impact on our ability to exercise (joint problems, heart problems etc), people with HIV are able to exercise in exactly the same way as anyone else, and don't really need any specialist advice.
Exercise does not have to be a painful experience or an annoying chore; in fact a good workout should be exhilarating and enjoyable. So instead of wondering "why exercise?" ask "why not?" One of the most useful things to remember is that training in a gym is not the only way to stay healthy. Instead, you can adopt the 'lifestyle approach', which incorporates your fitness routine into your daily activities.
Adopting the 'lifestyle activities' means that you're able to easily manage your day-to-day activities such as carrying heavy bags of shopping or running for a bus when you need to. As long as you follow some basic guidelines, you can exercise when and wherever you like. This level of activity is purely for maintaining health and to stop the body from getting weaker. The recommendation is that we need altogether minimum of 30 minutes a day moderate activity, 5 times a week.
Try modifying your daily routine to introduce some extra light exercise - walk or ride a bike instead of using public transport or a car, and walk up escalators instead of standing. We often forget that dancing is a great activity for health (as long as you don't drink so much while you're out that you negate the health benefits of the dancing!).
As an intermediate step, for those of you that would like more health benefits but still aren't interested in going to the gym, you could consider taking up a dance class or joining a walking group.
These basic changes can yield great benefits for anybody, and you can then look at a more structured routine at the gym if you like, which will yield far greater long term benefits for your health and fitness.