Ways to Increase Strength With HIV
You could make a long list of all the benefits of exercise, starting with its ability to increase your energy level and your lung capacity. Exercise can also help you build and maintain muscle mass, which is especially important for people with HIV, many of whom struggle with losing too much weight. Hitting the gym can be intimidating at first, but knowing the right strategies can help you get on the road to better health.
Consult Your Physician
Before you start lifting weights or attending spin class, consult your doctor. Talk about the type of exercise that you’ve done in the past and what type of exercise you’re interested in trying now. Your doctor will likely have some advice for you, based on your current health status, and you’ll probably be told to start slow and build up—and to drink plenty of fluids.
Incorporating some type of aerobic exercise into your schedule on a regular basis is a great way to get your heart rate up and build strength and endurance. You don’t have to put on a retro-style leotard and do aerobics—aerobic exercise just means you’re doing activities that get your heart pumping (comfortable clothes and well-fitting shoes are a good idea, though). Try one of these aerobic activities:
Start slow, but try to be consistent. Ideally, you want to aim for 150 minutes per week of moderately vigorous exercise. You can break that up into chunks of 30 minutes or smaller, depending on what works for you. But you don’t have to hit that level of activity at the very beginning. Three 20-minute sessions per week might be a good starting point.
Also, pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust your activity level accordingly. If you’re suffering from a bout of diarrhea, for example, you don’t want to do something that might cause you to get dehydrated. Or if you’re feeling fatigued—a common side effect for many people with HIV—you may need to move a little more slowly to get started.
Incorporate Resistance-Training Exercises
Aerobic exercise should only be one part of your exercise regimen. One of the best ways to maintain and build muscle mass is through resistance training, in which you move your body against some type of resistance, for example:
Your own body weight. You don’t even have to buy any special equipment to get started. Push-ups, planks, pull-ups and lunges are examples of resistance exercises that pit you against your own weight.
Weights. You can use barbells, dumbbells, weight machines or even heavy household objects like cans or books. As with your aerobic exercise, it’s important not to be overly ambitious when you start out. Start with smaller or lighter weights and do one set of repetitions. As you gradually build up your strength, add another set. You can also make the sets longer. However, listen to your body. If you’re feeling pain during the exercise, that’s a sign that something’s wrong.
Resistance bands. Tubular resistance bands are a staple in gyms across the country for good reason. They’re a lightweight, portable piece of equipment that just about anyone can use. They come in a variety of resistance strengths, from very light to heavy.
If you’ve never done this type of exercise before or it’s been a long time, consider consulting a trainer or other expert who can help you get started and avoid injuries. A trainer can also help you figure out how many repetitions to do of a particular exercise.
Keep Your Whole Body Strong
Exercise is terrific, but it’s not the only thing you should be doing to tend to your health. You also need to take care of the rest of you. Remember to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, take your medications, and manage your stress levels to stay on top of your HIV.
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- Exercise and HIV. AIDSinfonet.org. http://www.aidsinfonet.org/fact_sheets/view/802
- Exercise and HIV: Entire Lesson. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/daily/exercise/single-page.asp
- Nutrition and Exercise When You Have HIV. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-and-exercise-when-you-have-hiv/
- O’Brien KK, et al. Effectiveness of aerobic exercise for adults living with HIV: systematic review and meta-analysis using the Cochrane Collaboration protocol. BMC Infectious Diseases: 26 April 2016. https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-016-1478-2
- Resistance Training for Health and Fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/resistance-training.pdf