Exercise Enhances Lives of HIV-Positive Patients
WebMD News Archive
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
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
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
In his paper, Stringer cites some evidence that exercise increases CD4
counts. Says Avendano, "From my research and the material I've read, people
who start treatment on time and do exercise will maintain 50 CD4s higher than
people who don't exercise. That's very significant. It represents an important
adjuvant to therapy." CD4 is a kind of white blood cell targeted by HIV.
The higher the CD4 count in the blood, the better patients are able to resist