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Exercise Enhances Lives of HIV-Positive Patients

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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 infections.

Patients must be careful about physical limitations, especially with new medications that cause high triglycerides and cholesterol levels. If they have a hereditary condition -- such as heart disease -- they need to start very slowly, Avendano advises.

Andrew Zopola, MD, director of Stanford University's Positive Care program, tells WebMD, "We recommend that our patients work with a personal trainer as part of their comprehensive care. We also advise that they talk with their health care provider first before beginning an exercise program."

Exercise appears to lessen some side effects of HIV medications, says Zopola. "Patients who are vigorous exercisers seem to have less problem with the body changes -- what we call peripheral lipodystrophy -- the redistribution of fat that can make patients look sick even when they are not sick," he says. "It also helps with cholesterol problems. It does appear to help control some of the metabolic sequences of [HIV] therapy. We don't have good studies on this, but it's a strong anecdotal experience for many providers."

"The main benefit is that people feel better, they feel healthier, they're more energetic," says Zopola. "It's good for their sense of well being, but specifically with the HIV treatments it does seem to lessen those side effects."

Vital Information:

  • Moderate aerobic exercise can be beneficial to HIV-positive patients because it enhances mood and quality of life, helps maintain lean body mass when wasting is a problem, and can lessen some side effects of HIV medications.
  • There is also evidence that exercise can help improve immunity, as patients who exercise maintain a CD4 count that is significantly higher than that of patients who do not.
  • Patients should be aware of their physical limitations, especially high triglyceride and cholesterol levels that can be caused by some of the new medications.
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