HIV, known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus, invades and weakens the immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. HIV attacks the T-cells or CD4 cells, uses them to replicate, and then destroys them. Over time, as these cells are destroyed, your body can no longer fight infections and diseases which can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the final stage of HIV infection. Not everyone who has HIV advances to AIDS. Proper treatment with anti-retroviral therapy can keep the level of HIV virus in the body low.
Exercise has many of the same advantages for people with HIV as it does for others. Regular physical activity can improve muscle mass, strength and endurance, increase heart and lung endurance, improve energy, reduce stress, and increase bone strength. In addition, exercise decreases LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, increases good HDL cholesterol, decreases fat in abdomen, improves glucose levels, sleep, and appetite. The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on exercise suggests 30–45 minutes a day of brisk walking, bicycling, or working around the house. The risks of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes are decreased with this amount of exercise.
It is important for people with HIV to keep exercise volume in the moderate range – gradually increasing to at least 20 minutes of exercise at least three times per week. As strength and energy increases, aim for 45 minutes to an hour, three or four times per week. Even starting with 10-minute bouts is fine as you build up to an hour. The exercise routine should be varied as to avoid boredom. Choose something you enjoy like activities such as yoga, running, brisk walking, dancing, swimming, bicycling, or another sport. Participating in competitive or team sports is safe. In addition, weight training is one of the best ways to increase lean body mass and bone density that may be lost through HIV disease and normal aging. Weight training followed by 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise may be the best way to improve body composition and keep blood lipids and sugars down. Remember, the quality of old age of those with HIV depends on a life-long dedication to regular exercise.
By: Erin Kelly, M.S., ACSM-HSF, Fitness Specialist/Personal Trainer at Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center
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