HIV Patients Benefit from Exercise for Secondary Illnesses

Moderate to intense exercise carries wide range of benefits.

Moderate to intense exercise carries wide range of benefits.

An at-home exercise program can provide additional benefits for patients infected with HIV who are receiving antiretroviral medications.

Prior research has indicated that HIV patients can participate in a variety of moderate to intensive exercise programs that can improve their cholesterol level, in addition to enhancing cognitive and mental health outcomes. There just 2 exercise at home programs, however, specifically designed for HIV patients.

"People with HIV are developing secondary chronic illnesses earlier and more frequently than their non-HIV counterparts," Allison Webel, PhD, RN, said in a press release. "And heart disease is one for which they are especially at risk."

In an effort to create a new evidence-based exercise program that can be shared with HIV patients, researchers first sought to determine whether HIV patients are able to exercise at home.

Investigators from Case Western Reserve, Kent State University, and University Hospitals Case Medical Center recruited 102 HIV patients to evaluate their weekly fitness habits, which revealed most of the patients were exercising, but not intensely enough.

In a previous article published in The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, researchers noted that women averaged 2.4 hours per week of exercise, while men averaged 3.5 hours. The most popular forms of exercise included walking, climbing stairs, stretching, and weightlifting.

Taking away the time spent walking each week, which was the most widely used exercise among the patients, and the average amount of time females spent exercising per week dropped to 1.1 hours. It was also noted that men exercise longer than women, but less strenuously.

American Heart Association recommendations include 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises 5 days per week or 25 minutes of higher intensity exercises 3 days per week, with moderate strength building exercises a minimum of 2 days per week.

For the current study, the participants were all receiving antiretroviral therapies, had an average age of 48 years, and 83% were African-American. The patients had been infected with HIV an average of approximately 13 years and were on antiretroviral therapy in excess of 9 years.

Eighty percent of patients also carried a co-occurring health condition, such as depression and hypertension. Patients completed a 7-day diary that documented daily exercise duration, frequency, and intensity.

Armed with the knowledge that HIV patients can participate in an exercise at home program, the next step for researchers will be to design a flexible plan that “meets people at their initial levels and helps them progress to more intensive levels to maximize the health benefits of exercising,” the study noted.