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Exercise Enhances Lives of HIV-Positive Patients

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Jan. 12, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Aerobic exercise can bring a multitude of benefits to those who are HIV positive, enhancing mood and overall quality of life -- and possibly improving immunity -- according to an article in a recent issue of Sports Medicine.

"Aerobic exercise is clearly important," author William W. Stringer, MD, an HIV researcher at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., tells WebMD. "It helps maintain lean body mass when wasting is a problem. It can have effects not only on aerobic capacity and the amount of exercise you can do, but also ... on the immune system and quality of life."

Stringer adds, "There are such excellent HIV drugs now that are boosting the immune system, we can recommend a much more aggressive exercise program than before."

In his paper, Stringer reviews six recent studies that provide the basis for his recommendations to exercise trainers. He cites evidence confirming that regular, moderate-intensity "breathless" aerobic exercise is at the very least not detrimental to the HIV patient's immune system. Some patients may be able to work up to "heavy exercise" -- that which produces heavy sweating.

For previously sedentary HIV patients, "We recommend six to 12 weeks of moderate exercise, three times a week for about an hour," says Stringer. Exercising daily is less beneficial, he says: "A day or so [of recovery time] allows the immune system to get back to a baseline."

While aerobic exercise has been thought to boost the immune system and slow disease progression, "Immune function is not the best reason to recommend aerobic activity," says Stringer. "It's pretty clear it doesn't have large negative effects. Whether it has small positive effects is going to be difficult to determine. Certainly, there is anecdotal evidence that it does, and that's encouraging. It may be the placebo effect, plus the fact that it's a non-drug therapy that helps them feel better."

"I think this study gives us a new perspective on aerobic exercise and HIV," Alberto Avendano, MD, director of the University of Miami's HIV/AIDS Services program, tells WebMD. "For many years, like we do for other patients for other conditions, we have recommended exercise to patients. In the beginning, it was because we wanted to maintain lean body mass. This study shows that it [has many additional benefits]. Oxygen is a great healer."

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