Ten ways to stay healthy as an HIV-positive person.
A treatment plan is vital but a few lifestyle changes help you along the way.
A treatment plan is vital but a few lifestyle changes can intensify positive outcomes.
1. The right approach
An HIV positive diagnosis is a life-changing event. Although society has made huge strides over several decades, to tackle stigma head-on, we have a long way still to go. A huge part of making progress with the fight against HIV/AIDS involves lifestyle education.
2. Get the right help
The journey to living a long and fulfilling life after receiving an HIV positive diagnosis begins with finding the right help. Asking for help is not a sign of being weak, or unable to cope. It’s a sign of inner strength and self-awareness, that says you need to lean on someone for a while because things are tough. You could call a friend to chat, or speak to a counsellor to help you process the emotions that naturally come with this change. Help could also be found through confiding in your partner about your needs and circumstances. Asking for help is always the stronger choice. You’re not a charity case – you are strong.
3. Take care of your mind
Conquering HIV also needs an iron mind. Confronting scary thoughts, fears and doubts require you to fully understand when they appear, so you can apply the right process to move beyond them. Even the world’s best athletes attribute success to their mental state, not just their physical fitness levels. Getting your mind into the game takes time, so be patient with yourself, and remember:
- Look out for telltale signs of depression and anxiety. Nervous feelings, butterflies in your stomach, a tendency to look for excuses to avoid going out with friends or family. Sometimes you can be your own toughest critic and if you don’t deal with it upfront, it could lead to chemical depression which requires more severe intervention and treatment.
- Use your resources. Whether you have that last lingering question in your mind when you’re walking out of the doctor’s room of the clinic ward, make sure that you ask it. Your medical team understand that the challenge facing you will create questions in your mind, and they are prepared to help you.
- Try something new once in a while to keep your stress levels down. Balance outdoor activities with a variety of arts and crafts or word puzzles to rest your mind from your pressing challenges.
4. Stick to the plan
Discipline is tough, but it’s an important part of coping with HIV. If you consider yourself forgetful, or if work forces you to vary your routine from day to day, try using tools to help you stay on track. Make your medication a part of your morning or bedtime routine, set alarms on your phone or set a family habit in place where everyone takes vitamins and medicines at the same time. Make sure that any decision is approved by your doctor, nurse or clinic sister.
5. Get moving
If you can move your body for one hour a day, and maintain that at least three to four times a week, you’re going to see a major positive turn in your mental, emotional and physical states. Getting the right amount of exercise doesn’t mean you have to become an athlete – it simply means you should move your body in a way you enjoy. Run, walk, dance, kick a ball around for a while, go for a swim, or invest in a skipping rope.
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6. Look after your smile
Oral hygiene should always be important, and with HIV the risk of oral infections is higher so it’s non-negotiable. Floss and mouthwash should become staples on your shopping list and part of your daily morning and night routines.
7. Use protection
HIV heightens your risk of contracting other infections. Without using protection, both you and your partner are exposed to that risk. While neither of you is legally forced to disclose your HIV status, if you know you’re HIV positive, the responsible thing to do is to use a condom when engaging in sexual activity. If you’re HIV negative, practicing safe sex is equally important to minimise your risk and exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Even if you are both-HIV positive, aware of it, and have shared your status with each other, you and your partner are likely to have different viral loads and follow different treatment plans. Ask your doctor for advice on this, and enquire about Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
8. Permission to sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep each night is important for everyone, no matter their HIV status. By sticking to a good routine, and ensuring you get the right rest, you’re enabling your body to recover from the day’s work. You need between seven to nine hours’ sleep a night, to achieve optimal health.
9. Eat more of the right foods
The way our bodies absorb vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, is directly linked to the way our stomachs work. Your gastrointestinal system is an important part of your body’s functioning, so don’t ignore it. A well-functioning gastrointestinal system easily and properly absorbs your ARV treatment, so it’s doubly important when you’re HIV-positive. Make sure you eat a diet that’s high in fibre and consult your doctor if you’re experiencing any gastrointestinal problems.
10. Eat for life
The math is simple: a good healthy diet plan + the right exercise + an ARV treatment plan = living a healthy life while HIV-positive. A healthy diet plan for HIV-positive people doesn’t look much different from your common healthy diet plan. Before you start on a healthy diet plan though, chat to your doctor about any food sensitivities, allergies, or other concerns you may have. Of course, the food you eat may be influenced by your religion, culture, or beliefs, and eating a healthy diet while accommodating for those is absolutely possible – you don’t need to sacrifice one for the sake of the other! Speak to your doctor about creating a healthy diet plan that supports your ARV treatment plan. A healthy diet plan includes:
- Protein – this helps you build muscle.
- Carbohydrates – these give you energy.
- Fibre – this helps your gastrointestinal system work properly.
- A small number of fats – this gives you additional energy.
- Eating the rainbow every day, and that means fresh fruits and vegetables – every healthy diet plan focuses on increasing the amount of these you eat.
- The right amount of water – staying hydrated is key for your health. Make sure the water you drink is clean and safe to drink.
- Supporting your body with vitamins and mineral supplements, if necessary – chat to your doctor before you start taking any additional vitamins and supplements.
Did you know?
At AllLife, we help you stick to your ARV treatment plan, by sending you regular reminders about your medication and when to attend your next medical appointment. We also help you make the right choices towards building a healthy lifestyle while HIV-positive.
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Griffin, RM. 2019. Sexual relationships when you’re HIV positive. Web MD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/features/sex-intimacy-hiv#1 [Accessed 29 July 2019].
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Lands, L. n.d. 10 commandments for living long and well with HIV. Available at: https://www.catie.ca/en/positiveside/fallwinter-2001/10-commandments-living-long-and-well-hiv [Accessed 29 July 2019].
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Peirce, A. 2019. 10 ways to stay healthy if you have HIV. Everyday Health. 20 May. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/hiv-aids/staying-healthy-with-hiv.aspx [Accessed 29 July 2019].
US Department of Health and Human Sciences. 2019. Following an HIV regimen: steps to take before and after starting HIV medicines. AIDSinfo. Available at: https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/21/55/following-an-hiv-regimen—steps-to-take-before-and-after-starting-hiv-medicines [Accessed 29 July 2019].
US Department of Veterans Affairs. 2019. Exercise and HIV: entire lesson. 10 May. Available at: https://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/daily/exercise/single-page.asp [Accessed 29 July 2019].
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