to Dealing with HIV – and Staying Healthy!
If you’re taking HIV medications, you may think you’re doing everything you can to keep your virus in check and stay healthy. But are you really taking care of yourself - body and mind - as well as you possibly can?
Here’s a whole body and mind guide to dealing with HIV – and staying healthy!
1. Find an experienced HIV doctor.
First things first: everyone with HIV needs to be under the care of a physician who has experience dealing with HIV and AIDS. Treatments for HIV are complex and fast-changing, and you really need to work with someone who knows what they’re doing. Even if you don’t need to take medicines yet, your doctor should be monitoring your CD4 T-cell count and viral load on a regular basis.
2. Take your meds – on time, every time.
If you are on meds, the most important thing you can do is take them – on time, every time, without fail. The medicines available to treat HIV today are miraculous. They have changed what was a death sentence into a chronic, manageable disease. Nothing on this list is meant to be a substitute for HIV medications – there is no substitute! If you are HIV-positive, the most important thing you can do for your health is take the medications your doctors prescribes - religiously!
3. Get regular exercise.
Regular daily exercise does amazing things for your body. It can make you look better, sleep better, and feel better. It helps you manage your weight. It elevates your mood. It helps protect you from a long list of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and several kinds of cancer.
If you’re not exercising already, it’s time to get with the program! An ideal workout includes aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, or bicycling, with resistance exercise to build up your muscular strength and stretching to promote flexibility.
But doing anything is much better than doing nothing! Starting an exercise program doesn’t have to mean joining a gym. For example, dancing is fantastic exercise. Were you a hula hoop champion or hacky sack wizard when you were a kid? They still make them! Love playing soccer? There are leagues for everybody. Pick something you really enjoy. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it gets you moving!
4. Eat nutritious food.
Just about everybody knows that an apple is better for you than an order of French fries. Everyone knows you’re supposed to eat three to five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, and cut back on fat. But not many people actually do it.
Use the fact that you’re HIV-positive to motivate you to eat the way you know you should. Your immune system is compromised. You need the antioxidants in oranges and tomatoes and berries and peppers.
It’s just a matter of making better choices. Buy a bunch of grapes for a snack instead of a bag of potato chips. Have a big salad for lunch instead of a greasy burger. Your body will thank you for it!
5. Get your rest.
William Shakespeare said that sleep “knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” And he was right! The immune system is enhanced by sleep and rest, so make sure you get as much as you need.
6. Reduce your stress.
Just as the immune system in enhanced by sleep, it is impaired by stress.
Where does stress come from? Just having HIV is stressful. You can also be stressed by problems at work, a difficult relationship, financial problems – or just by someone who cut you off on the road. Even if everything is going fine, you can stress yourself out by worrying about what could happen!
There are lots of ways to relieve stress. Take a couple of real deep breaths and let them out very slowly. Exercise is a fantastic stress reliever and mood enhancer, so go for a walk or a run. A good belly laugh is a fantastic stress reliever, so watch a funny movie. Sex relieves stress, so have at it!
There are also some specific disciplines that do a great job of relieving stress. Some of them have been around for thousands of years. They include:
Meditation is practice that goes back to the beginning of recorded history. Now, researchers at UCLA have proved that “mindfulness meditation” can stop the decline of CD4 T-cells in HIV-positive patients suffering from stress. The study was reported in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
“This study provides the first indication that mindfulness mediation stress-management training can have a direct impact in slowing HIV disease progression,” said lead study author David Creswell, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA.
Creswell and his associates ran an eight-week mindfulness meditation program and compared it to a one-day course offered to a control group. Participants in the eight-week group showed no loss of T-cells. In contrast, the control group showed significant declines.
Creswell noted that “the more mindfulness medication classes people attended, the higher their T-cells at the end of the study.”
Creswell and his associates found that the program protected those who were on HIV meds and those who were not equally.
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise and healing that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It has become a very popular form of stress-relief for people living with HIV. Many AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) offer classes in Yoga for their clients. And many large Yoga centers offer classes specifically for those with HIV.
Asana and prana are the primary forms of Yoga taught in the United States. “Asana” means “pose or posture,” while “prana” means “breath.”
Yoga is often called “moving meditation,” although a Yoga instructor may dedicate a segment of the class to still meditation, usually in a comfortable cross-legged position.
If you’ve ever had a good massage, you can vouch for the relaxing, calming effects of a massage. People living with HIV have extolled the benefits of massage for years, claiming it helps with everything from stress reduction to increased T-cells. Many ASOs offer free massage sessions to their clients.
A number of studies show that the benefits of massage are not just subjective – massage really can improve your immune system’s function. So, if you have the opportunity to get a good massage, don’t pass it by!
Please don’t get so enthusiastic about these complimentary therapies that you forget about your meds. Medications are the bedrock of HIV treatment. But, used in combination with your medicines, meditation, Yoga and massage can be very beneficial.
Copyright 2014, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!