In addition to the health benefits it yields for all people, exercise has specific advantages for HIV-positive people and attaining these advantages should be the focus of your program.
In a nutshell, the aim of your exercising should be to gain and maintain/protect lean muscle mass. We can put it that simply because the exercises which bring this about are the ones which will yield the widest HIV specific benefits, and because studies have shown that HIV-positive people with good proportions of lean muscle mass have the most favorable outcomes in terms of quality of life and avoidance of complications.
Resistance exercises (either with weights, your own body or some external force) are the best way to achieve this goal. By gaining muscle mass I do not mean becoming extremely muscular, but rather that your body composition should have a strong lean mass-fat ratio. You may not necessarily need to gain much weight. Once this favorable ratio has been achieved then the aim is to maintain it. Of course resistance training is not the only kind of valuable exercise; aerobic activities, team sports, running, etc., are all of great value, though care should be taken with endurance activities (running long distances for example) as these tend to break down lean muscle mass.
Besides building lean mass, resistance training provides these other vital benefits:
* Power! You are taking action to tackle the virus. Do not sit back and let it have its way!
* Positive effect in preventing/reversing body shape changes (virus or medication caused)
* Helps to control triglyceride levels which can be thrown out of whack by retrovirals
* Yields an overall improvement in mood and outlook; The happy buzz you get from exercising can actually be a lifesaver. When you feel better, your body has less stress and is more available for the fight at hand, which should be against HIV, not itself.
* Increase in bone density, vital for preventing and turning around osteoporosis
* Prevention and control of diabetes, even to the point of relieving you of reliance on medication
All of these benefits and you don’t even need to leave your house to achieve them, you can just use your own body as resistance. Needless to say, this can only happen with the correct nutrition, which we will look at later.
A further aim of your exercise program should be preparing yourself for the unknown. You may have a long and entirely healthy life with no complications from HIV, or you may encounter some speed bumps along the way, some may be serious and require hospitalization. Whether these are HIV-related or not, they will certainly have an effect on your health. The best way to come out of these health events successfully is to be in the best shape you can be before they happen. In other words, you exercise to gain all the positive benefits for your fight against HIV, but also to prepare yourself in case you get knocked down, so that you can come through any health crisis as quickly and soundly as possible.
In the next column, we will look at how to bring this all about—how to create and begin a resistance training program which will yield you all of these benefits.
John Dunlea is a certified personal trainer and Level 1 Crossfit Trainer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.