“Stay fit and healthy” and “lose weight” are two of the most popular New Year resolutions. In fact they made up 69% of resolutions in 2015! And while we all understand the significance of health and fitness, around 80% of these of these resolutions fail because of numerous excuses that come easy to most of us.
However, these fall flat in front of the danger AIDS poses to HIV+ people.
While a sure shot way to avoid HIV is safe sex, testing is the only way to know you are not HIV positive. Sadly, as the data of the UNAIDS 2017 report has for you, 3 of every 10 HIV+ people don’t know their HIV status.
HIV-AIDS does not have a cure. Discrimination, a lack of knowledge about safe sex practices, and of how HIV spreads is responsible for adding to the death toll of HIV-AIDS patients. Those living with HIV have to depend on lifelong medication to survive.
I have been taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the past year. ART stopped HIV from colonizing my body. But beating HIV to live life to the fullest takes more than just medication. Most HIV-AIDS specialists advise 20-30 minutes of exercise, and a healthier diet. But I’ve seen the benefits of doing a lot more than that. And it’s something I believe all HIV-AIDS patients should be doing!
Most people don’t realize that your immunity is not just a function of body, it is an organ system. Lymph nodes and the spleen play key roles in our immunity. Our blood has to overcome gravity to reach the heart from the lower parts of our body. Sedentary lifestyle means we don’t use our muscles enough to pump blood to the upper parts of our body. By contracting and strengthening our muscles during workouts, we also stimulate our blood vessels to ensure better flow of White and Red Blood Cells, for the longevity of our organs, and to fight off germs and viruses, respectively.
Efavirenz, the main chemical used in the most commonly available HIV medications are known to cause or worsen depression. Not to mention the debilitating feeling that overwhelms a person knowing that they are HIV+. Sustained depression leads to physical and psychological diseases that could cause early onset of AIDS. This is why working out is important for HIV+ patients. Physical activity helps bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. These hormones are your body’s natural anti-depressants. You feel good about yourself, and are in a better position to fight off depression.
The heart and the eyes are the only two muscles in our body that work non-stop. Evolution has deemed both to be important for survival. Some HIV drugs cause an increase in blood pressure. Adding fuel to fire is the fact that HIV medication could interact with other medicines, for example Viagra, and cause high blood pressure, which in turn causes the risk of stroke, kidney failure and heart attack.
Exercise helps increase your heart’s tolerance of strain caused by high blood pressure. So, the harms of prolonged use of HIV medication could be mitigated by giving yourself a heavy workout everyday. Seek cardio intensive exercises and circuit training to have a healthy heart.<
When you have HIV, you burn calories fast. And this is because your immunity is working overtime to keep up with the virus. HIV medication helps slow, and limits its presence. But one miss or delay in your medication can cause significant damage to your body. Your body also may not absorb enough nutrients because HIV hurts the linings of your intestines, or because the medication causes upset stomach and diarrhea. People with HIV also tend to have higher sugar and fat content in their blood, with lesser protein content. And so, you must give your body a protein rich diet.
Ever heard of AIDS Wasting Syndrome? Ah, yes! Scary as it sounds – it is a condition when the body loses 5-10% of its weight in muscles. One can limit muscle wasting HIV medications, but is still a considerable threat. Progressive weight training, without the use of steroids and supplements, is the only way to ensure delayed onset of AIDS for those suffering with HIV.
HIV medication also causes nightmares, drowsiness, mood swings, and weakness. Just as hormones are released in small quantities to regulate your bodily functions, HIV medication also works to impede the growth of virus in your body. Workout helps regulate your body’s hormones by activating your glands.
A good workout makes your body tired by the end of the day, leading to better sleep, and most of our body’s repair work happens when we sleep. A sound sleep also ensures the aforementioned side effects of HIV medication could be made minimal, if not completely removed.
Regular physical activity increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body. These two chemicals are important for the reward system of your brain. They help regulate your mood, sleep cycle, hunger, movement and posture.
Exercising activates the reward system of our brain by releasing dopamine and serotonin. While dopamine is also produced when you have an orgasm, take drugs, or play your favourite game. Serotonin levels are higher when you wake up early morning, receive hugs, feel loved, and meditate. These chemicals also reduce dependence on addictions.
Exercise has a direct impact on how you feel about yourself. You feel more confident, self-assured, focused and empathetic. You have a stronger desire to connect with others, share, talk, and add value to yourself and the world.
For those of us living with HIV, it is absolutely essential to stay fit. And I strongly advise you to make that your New Year’s resolution. For those of you who are not HIV+, practicing safe sex should be a resolution that you should strongly consider.
Make sure you honour the resolutions you make this New Year!
On behalf of Safe Masti, a program supported by Elton John foundation, I wish you a happy and healthy 2018.