Aerobic exercise offers HIV-positive people a lot more than a sweaty workout. It helps alleviate some side effects of the drugs that allow those infected with the virus that causes Aids to live longer, healthier lives.
Research published in the journal Aids found that people with HIV who take part in supervised aerobic exercise have decreases in such drug-related side effects as fatigue and the redistribution of body weight.
For the study, 52 males and eight females were split into two groups. One group engaged in a 12-week supervised aerobic program consisting of such activities as jogging, bicycling and walking. Those in the second group went about their normal daily activities, minus the exercise.
By the end of the 12 weeks, those in the exercise group had decreased fatigue, could remain on a treadmill longer and showed a decrease in abdominal girth, compared to the sedentary group.
"Fatigue was one of the major symptoms we were trying to combat because the problem is that people who are fatigued don't feel like exercising. And then they become more inactive, and it just perpetuates a vicious circle," says Barbara Smith, a professor of nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the study.
"But after this program, the subjects who had exercised reported feeling more vigorous," she adds.
In addition to fatigue, HIV medications, in an estimated 20 percent of patients, can result in changes in body-fat distribution, such as thinning of the face and legs but a widening of the waist and, in women, the breasts.
"In the early days of HIV, when you talked about body weight and body composition, it was about how to prevent wasting away," Smith explains. "Now, with the new drugs, the concern is body-fat distribution. And patients can also develop high levels of cholesterol and other problems that make them more at risk for cardiovascular disease."
The assorted potential side effects of HIV medications make exercise more important than ever for patients, says Dr Roy Gulick, director of the Cornell HIV Clinical Trials Unit, and an associate professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.
"It's known that exercise is helpful in the general population in terms of everything . . . lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, increasing cardiovascular health, decreasing fatigue, building up muscle and actually improving mood," Gulick says.
"I think patients with HIV are no different. And for them, there can be added benefits in terms of trying to cope with this fatness redistribution problem," he adds.
"Clearly, if someone's not feeling well, they can only do as much as they can do," Gulick says. "But for most people with HIV, we recommend increases in their exercise levels."