I’ve had countless people living with HIV approach me for training advice in the last few years. Many of them have experienced stigma from other personal trainers in the past or they’re worried that their HIV status means they can no longer train as they would like to. Firstly, no-one should be made to feel “othered” or “less than” because of their status and secondly, it’s paramount that as a community we educate and destigmatise HIV.
Designing a fitness program for people living with HIV is absolutely no different to that of those curated for people who are HIV negative, but like every individual person we must assess their personal needs and risks to create a bespoke program to help them thrive.
Often HIV positive clients benefit far greater from tailored programs than what regular exercise promotes and I recommend to all my clients to talk to your health care provider and to consider your current health status and other medical conditions that may affect the type of exercise you can do before undertaking a new program.
Exercise must be personalised with specific goals, whether you aim to put on muscle and gain weight or lose it. Given that HIV symptoms vary, it’s best to take this into consideration when deciding on a goal with your personal trainer, for example ongoing HIV infection causes some people to lose weight, particularly lean body mass, that is, muscle involuntarily. This condition, called wasting, can be very serious if not addressed. Whereas for others, widespread lipodystrophy and HIV-related metabolic problems are causing excess fat gain. It’s vital to consider your health needs, if not, you may exasperate your condition, for example a person managing wasting shouldn’t be training for marathons and equally, a person who should lose weight may be risking their health if they are only focusing on resistance training.
Further benefits of exercise for people living with HIV endorsed by medical professionals include:
Maintain and build bone density for people at risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
A decrease in cardiovascular mortality and developing cardiovascular disease.
Lower blood pressure, higher insulin sensitivity and a more favourable plasma lipoprotein profile.
Reduce risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Beyond the physical benefits of exercise and what I consider the most important outcomes of exercising are the significant psychological benefits. Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are a concern for many people, especially those living with HIV who continue to face stigma and prejudice in society. The psychological demands of HIV medications and the stress of living with HIV can be overwhelming and in the current health crisis we’re living through is magnifying theses concerns for our community.
Whilst I acknowledge exercise is not a cure for mental health conditions, it can certainly alleviate symptoms and improve your mental health. It is proven that exercise raises the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and an increased heart rate boosts the amount of endorphins circulating throughout the body.
I strongly recommend a workout regime that is best for you, your body and one that you enjoy. Know your body and what it is capable of and you’ll achieve the great things you are destined for. Your HIV status doesn’t define you as a person and what you can achieve in life!
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Introduction to Exercise and Thriving with HIV
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