Exercising And Thriving With HIV


I’ve had many people living with HIV approach me for training advice. Often they have concerns based on a fear that they may be stigmatised by a personal trainer or feel that their 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 destigmatise HIV. It’s not the onus of people living with HIV to dispel misinformation, but that of the community and our allies.

Designing a fitness program for people living with HIV is no different to designing 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 more from tailored programs than regular exercise programs and I recommend to all my clients that they talk to their healthcare provider and consider their current health status and other medical conditions that may affect the type of exercise they 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, HIV infection causes some people to lose weight, particularly lean body mass (muscle) involuntarily. This condition, called wasting, can be very serious if not addressed.

For others, widespread lipodystrophy and HIV-related metabolic problems can causing excess fat gain. It’s vital to consider your health needs or you may exasperate your condition. For example, a person managing wasting shouldn’t be training for marathons. 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:

  • Maintaining and building bone density for people at risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
  • Decreasing cardiovascular mortality and cardiovascular disease.
  • Lowering blood pressure, increasing insulin sensitivity and a more favourable plasma lipoprotein profile.
  • Reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Beyond the physical benefits of exercise are what I consider the most important outcomes – 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. The current COVID-19 health crisis can magnifying these concerns.

While I acknowledge exercise is not a cure for mental health conditions, it can certainly alleviate symptoms and help improve 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 program 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.

Simon Dunn is a personal trainer and Bobby Goldsmith Foundation ambassador. Go to Simon’s website.

About The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation

The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF) is Australia’s longest running HIV charity. BGF has no political or religious affiliations, just a deep-seated desire to help people live well on their terms through practical, tailored assistance. Visit their website.

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