This entry first appeared in Nate’s’ own blog here.
Living with HIV has presented many challenges and changes to my lifestyle. One of the most important is my complete health. I ignored my HIV for almost four years, and this had detrimental effects on my health. It wasn’t that I was being promiscuous or treating my body badly, it’s just that I pushed HIV so far back in my mind that I no longer thought about it, or even what I had to do about it.
June 2011. I decided that I needed to kick my health into a better place. I finally quit smoking, which was surprisingly easy for me personally, I ate less junk food and I joined a gym. (There is a big difference between joining a gym and actually using a gym).
In my mind I was focusing on the right path, when it all came crashing down. I started to get really sick, and over the course of about five weeks, my health really deteriorated. By October 2011, I was hospitalized with possible TB. It was now that the HIV fear kicked in. Was I dying? Blood was taken and within 24hrs results were back. My CD4 count was below 40 and my viral was in excess of 330,000 copies.
After a few more days in hospital it was confirmed that I had PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia), which is an AIDS-related chest infection. After a few more in days in hospital i was released, with strict instruction on weekly clinic visits to monitor my blood and health.
It finally was brought into reality that HIV is real in my life, and that I need to be aware of so much. I started reading a lot about dietary, fitness, mental and general health suggestions for people living with HIV. A few months ago I started attending Boot Camp (group fitness) sessions twice a week. These are low impact and good for general health. The clinic where I go for my medications and blood tests actually thought this was great, as the sessions are low impact and great to start to strengthen the body, especially because I had just started on Anti Retroviral Treatment.
After the first two months, I already felt my body getting stronger, and more responsive. I started attending the gym also and doing a Cycle spin class. The first time I did it, I nearly died. But I kept at it, and again could feel my body strength building.
When I hit the four month mark with this semi-intense training, my personal trainer asked if I wanted to take it to the next level. I had already hinted I wanted to do this but was comfortable at my current pace, or you may say complacent.
Now I have two Personal Training sessions a week, plus Boot Camp after these sessions. These are full on, one-on-one training sessions and are total killers. I also still hit the gym for the Spin class, and try to get there on a separate day/night for weights. Believe it or not, I’m stronger today with HIV than I have ever been in my entire life.
So how does all this relate to HIV and help fight the virus?
It is possible to slow down the HIV virus and improve your health. For many years HIV was considered the vanishing virus and you would slowly disappear and waste into nothing and not be able to do anything about it. Living with HIV is challenging on so many levels. No two people with HIV are exactly the same.
Today with proper treatment and healthier habits and basic exercise this is no longer true. People living with HIV can slow down the HIV infections and improve their health by doing a few simple things.
- Eat Healthy
- Manage stress
- Get plenty of sleep
- Regular exercise
To do this is as simple as exercising 2-4 times a week to help strengthen your body. You are also less likely to develop AIDS than those who do nothing. Exercise can also help slow down the progression of the HIV virus and maintain your CD4 counts.
Getting enough exercise is sometimes hard. When you start, though, keep in mind a few things like your current level of fitness, what HIV treatment you are on (if any) and how can you make this a fun process. Be realistic and set achievable goals. If you have never really exercised in your life and expect to be an Olympic athlete in two weeks, then you will fail. So aim for something you can do, like, ‘today I can do only one or two push-ups. In two weeks I will do five push-ups’, and so on.
My current exercise regime has already given me some results. I’m seeing a decrease in bad body fat, including the body fat that you get from ARTs around the belly, my blood pressure and heart rates are perfect, and from my regular blood tests my cholesterol and sugars are exactly where they have to be for a healthy fit person. I’m not having any adverse reactions to Atripla. I have also heard regular exercise decreases the chances of some cancers as well as general anxiety, tension and depression. It’s really a win/win all the way.
HIV hasn’t been a bad thing in my life. There was a time of depression, ignorance and fear, but today it has given me reason to live, to better myself and to improve my health and life. Today I’m a better, stronger person for it.
How can this help you, whether or not you have HIV?
Before you start, know your state of health and consult your doctor. Listen to your body, for example if you really are not feeling well. are feverish, dizzy, have swollen joints, pain in your feet or hands, vomiting, diarrhoea, open sores, bleeding gums, or blood in the urine or stool, do not exercise and seek medical attention. Know when to stop, be patient with yourself and give your body the respect it needs to repair and recover after a workout.
Set achievable goals. To set them, start with a baseline. Write down what you can do today and aim to better every two weeks or month.
Once you have seen your doctor and set goals, it is time to get started.
If you have been exercising, that’s great. Keep it up, and whatever you do, try not to stop exercising. If you are new to exercise, start slowly. Your body needs time to adjust to the new stresses you are putting on it, not to mention all the stress already on your body. It is also important when exercising to keep your body well hydrated.
Keep in mind to avoid over training. Although exercise improves your overall health, over-training can have a negative effect on someone with HIV, such as the loss of lean body mass (muscle) and suppression of immune responses. If you are feeling worse and not better, then you should take some time off training. If in a few day you do not start to feel better, see you doctor again. Pay attention to your body. If you start to get short of breath or hurt somewhere, stop what you are doing.
People with HIV are at risk of osteoporosis – conditions in which the bones become softer and more easily broken. Exercise can help maintain and build bone density, so it is actually recommended for people with these conditions. However, it’s important to choose the right kind.
DO: so-called weight-bearing exercises, in which you are working against gravity. These include weight training, walking and jogging, stair climbing, and low-impact aerobics – also skipping and trampolining. Swimming and cycling, while good for your heart, do not help combat thinning bones. Get expert advice about your exercise routine.
AVOID: high-impact activities like boxing, and movements that involve a lot of flexing or twisting of the spine. These types of activities can stress the bones and run the risk of breakage.
Types of training to do:
Cardiovascular training or aerobic training involves activities of moderate intensity that use the major muscle groups for an extended period of time (12 minutes or more). These activities can include walking, running, swimming, riding and group fitness classes.
Resistance training or strength training can help add muscle mass, or develop the muscle mass you already have. Resistance training should be done three or four days per week, including 10-12 major muscles or muscle groups in your training session. This is important as the proteins in muscle play an important role in your body’s immune system. Muscle wasting is a problem for many people with HIV and resistance training can slow down or reverse this process. Resistance training will increase the size of the muscle fibres all over the body.
Flexibility training helps with overall joint and body movement. As people grow older, they lose flexibility. Nevertheless, flexibility training is often the most neglected part of someone’s workout. Flexibility training allows you to get so much more out of your normal training sessions. Stretching exercises can play a vital role in helping you maintain your muscle mass and your muscle tone. Stress management and pain control are added benefits to regular flexibility training. You should always warm up first before doing stretching exercises. If you don’t warm up first, and stretch cold muscles, you risk injuring them.
Balance training is often easiest to do with a partner. HIV medication often affects your neuromuscular activities. HIV and some HIV medications can affect your neuromuscular activities. You may notice your sense of balance changing or you have trouble walking or standing still at times. Balance training simply entails putting your body in positions that challenge your sense of balance. It could be as simple as standing in the middle of the room with your eyes closed. You could also stand on one leg and change the positions of your arms – all of this retrains your muscles and nerves to balance again. This can be done daily, but you should have supervision.
Mind-body fitness training is one of the newest trends in the fitness industry. Mind-body fitness is the integration of the your mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical awareness into one component. Many Eastern philosophies have done this for years in the forms of yoga, T’ai Chi, martial arts, and meditation. It can be seen is some Western disciplines in visualization and ballet bar stretches. These mind-body activities can help you create a connection between what is going on with your body and your emotions and feelings, and help with stress management.
At the end of the day, exercise is going to do you good. You will feel stronger and better about everything. So get off your arse and start working it.
Please also visit these sites; some of the information above has been derived from them:
Nate’s bio: I’m a single gay man living in Sydney, Australia. Desk jockey by day and super hero by night, actually not really, just an ordinary man by night. I consider myself un-normal, in the sense that I don’t fit into any particular stereotype/box.
I am a 39 year old HIV+ man who was diagnosed in March 2008. I was in denial of my HIV+ for many years until my health took a turn for the worse late 2011 when I was hospitalized with PCP pPneumonia). It was here that my CD4 count was a low 40, and Viral Load in excess of 330,000 copies. Today my CD4 is 220, and Viral Load is un-detectable.
With the help of some extraordinary doctors and friends, I am now on the road to managing my health with ART medication, awareness and physical strengthening.
I’m just a man trying to live an extraordinary life with all the limitations and road blocks included.
Follow me on twitter here (@Phoenixlifeblog)