The benefits of exercise, a purposeful type of physical activity, are accepted by most older persons. However, regular or routine exercise programs are not often achieved. There are many reasons why routine exercise efforts do not occur: uncertainty about the best type of exercise, the difficulty in starting a program, and the lack of incentive to continue. For the older person with HIV implementing and sustaining an exercise program can be very helpful. Adults with HIV are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Exercise can help to reduce that risk. A sustained exercise program can also help by managing excess weight and obesity both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Obesity, which may lead to diabetes, can also be controlled by a combination of exercise and better diet. Given the multiple reports of cognitive impairment seen in many older adults with HIV, an exercise program may be a good choice since exercise is one of the few factors that have been associated with less Alzheimer’s disease in the general population. Exercise programs can range from brisk walking, swimming, more work in the home and garden, to lifting weights, although the latter would probably take some counseling to be effective and not cause problems or injuries. In almost every study of exercise in older adults, including those with HIV, resistance exercise is the preferred mode (see the NIH link below for details).
The first thing you need to do before starting an exercise program, especially if you have not been active, is to discuss with your physician if there are any conditions you have that might put you at increased risk. These might include reviewing your cardiac status, discussing problems with shortness of breath, joint pain issues or other conditions that might be adversely affected by exercising. Then, it will be important to discuss any other limitations as well as any goals that you and your physician can set before starting an exercise program. This might require a referral to a physical therapist to help in developing a program.
After getting the go ahead to begin an exercise program you might consider finding a partner to work along with to reinforce a sustained effort. Fortunately, besides what a physical therapist or a coach/trainer at your gym might arrange for you, there are a number of resources in the document entitled “Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life”. This report can be reached by going to: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-physical-activity. The challenge for most people is to not only making a commitment to exercising, but to work it into your life style, so the chances of success in continuing the program are maximized. Both the health and enjoyment rewards will be worth it.
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