be sure to visit my blog

The ABCs Of Exercising When You Have HIV

by StephenKelly

Among the benefits of working as a trainer are the people you meet. It's the rapport and working relationships you gain with your clients that make the job fun. But training at a predominately gay gym in the heart of San Francisco's Castro district brings the inevitable prospect of working with men diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

I'm always impressed by the profound sense of dedication these men bring to their workouts. They know what it's all about. Because of their HIV-positive status, aesthetics take a back seat to enormous health considerations; they literally exercise as if their lives depend on it.

Exercise is an essential part of dealing with the virus. A strong body is needed to fight this disease, and the enormous overall health benefits derived from exercise -- everything from blood-pressure control to testosterone and energy levels -- now take on greater importance. Exercise also gives a valuable mental boost that can ward off the depression, anger and anxiety often felt by people living with HIV.

Most importantly, a comprehensive yet moderate fitness regimen can combat the side effects both of the virus and the meds used to fight it, including fatigue, changes in body-fat distribution that can lead to thinning of the face and legs, and the loss of muscle strength and reduced aerobic activity caused by de-conditioning.

If you are HIV-positive, you should take stock of your current state of health before you hit the gym. If you had been physically active at the time of your diagnosis, you're in a better position than someone who had a sedentary lifestyle. For those guys, starting and adhering to a fitness regimen may be a little tougher. Start slowly and choose exercises that you like. Set realistic goals. The object is to make exercise an integral part of a healthier lifestyle, so don't set the bar so high that you eventually quit. As always, consult with your physician before beginning any workout regimen.

Listen to your body as you begin to work out. As guys begin to enjoy the benefits of exercising, they will often fall into the "more is better" trap, and overtraining can be a concern, particularly with cardio. Be aware that the symptoms of overtraining — such as depression, extreme muscle soreness, insomnia, weight loss and fatigue — are the same as escalating HIV symptoms. Take some time off if you experience these symptoms. If they go away, you've been overtraining. See your doctor if they don't.

For those with HIV, a comprehensive, progressive resistance-training regimen is a good place to start. Weightlifting is crucial to keeping and improving body mass, and research shows that the proteins in muscle may play an important role in the immune system. It has also been proven to slow or prevent the muscle wasting brought on by the virus.

Resistance training has other beneficial side effects important to HIV-positive people. Progressive resistance training gives results similar to oxandrolone, an anabolic steroid that improves lean body mass and may help prevent or delay the thinning of the face and buttocks brought on by lipodystrophy and body wasting. Studies also show that progressive resistance-training could increase phase angle, which along with CD4 (T-cell) count and viral load, are important measures of long-term survival.

When designing a weight-training routine, focus on exercising large muscle groups such as the chest, back and legs with compound movements, or movement in more than one joint. Building the bigger muscles will not only add to greater muscle mass, but will also raise your metabolism. Exercises like bench press, squats, and back rows should be the foundation of your routine, surrounded by single-joint exercises for shoulders, arms, triceps and abs. Aim to hit every major muscle group during the course of your routine.

Beginners should start slow and light, exercising twice a week to allow the body to ramp up. Guys with more experience can exercise three to four days a week, lifting eight to 12 reps of moderate weights for two to three sets (depending on your strength and health levels). Take at least a day's rest in between any single muscle group. Think about splitting your workout — doing upper body Monday and Thursday, for example, and lower body Tuesday and Friday. It's also important to hydrate while exercising, so don't skimp on the fluid intake.

Proper aerobic training can be tricky for people living with HIV, as overtraining can lead to a loss of valuable lean body mass. Still, cardio training brings important health benefits such as controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids levels, while also being a tremendous stress-reliever.

Start slowly, twice a week for 15 minutes, particularly if your T-cell count is between 200 and 500. If your count is above 500, aim for a 30-minute cardio workout three or four times a week. Those with counts below 200 should go easy, ideally doing a cardio workout for five minutes, two to three times a week, stopping if you start feeling overly tired.

The object is to make your body as strong as possible, but battling HIV and AIDS also calls for a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. It's important to monitor what goes in your body and how it affects the fight against the disease. Recreational drugs and alcohol serve to weaken your body, and smoking can be particularly risky. Even some over-the-counter drugs can have unintentional side effects. For instance, St. John's wort, the popular antidepression herb, can reduce the strength of HIV meds such as Indinavir by half.

Facing HIV and AIDS is a daunting task, and a healthy lifestyle, comprehensive workout routine and education about your own body are key ingredients for living with the virus.