HIV has been around now for more than three decades, and the years have been a rough climb up a jagged cliff of too many deaths, harsh early medications and side effects, and one of the most politically-charged and stigmatized health issues ever. The newer medications have helped many people become healthier while unfortunately causing complacency amongst others, and some people have lost a sense of urgency when it comes to this disease. I’m one of the lucky ones who can share my story—with all the fun I had before my diagnosis and after taking such high doses of AZT, I pinch myself before writing these articles.
After over three decades of fighting HIV and AIDS, worrying about compliance to the medications, and dealing with side effects, we don’t seem to be taking very good care of ourselves. According to the CDC, 19% of adults in the United States are smokers. However, the smoking rate is two to three times higher among adults who are HIV-positive. The CDC also reports that approximately 25% of recently diagnosed HIV patients are also alcohol dependent. The constant rise and fall of STIs, especially syphilis, tells me that safer sex practices and materials are not being used very well. We also have an alarming rate of obesity and its related diseases: diabetes, high lipids, strokes, and heart attacks.
So why do so many of us who take HIV medications to live a longer life with HIV otherwise treat our bodies so badly? I ask people every now and then if they exercise, and if looks could kill I should drop dead on the floor after asking. Exercise has become a dirty word in our society. Many people believe that exercise means we have to run for miles, push hundreds of pounds, and use up hours and hours of our daily lives. In fact, all we have to do is walk a little extra, take stairs instead of elevators a few days a week, or—my favorite exercise—dance!
If you look at all the gyms today you’ll see that they offer every type of dancing exercise you can think of from aerobics to Zumba and Rumba. You don’t have to pay for a gym membership to enjoy them; you already have some type of music device, so all you need to do is dance your ass off and exercise! You probably have already done this at some point in the discotheques or clubs, but you don’t just have to do it under the influence. Instead, dance and drink water. Dance for 20 minutes three times a week, and your body won’t know the difference if you danced or worked out at a fitness club. Your mind will also feel better after those 20 minutes because you will be experiencing your body producing its own “feel good” hormones, just like athletes talk about.
Wouldn’t it be a shame to take HIV medications all your life and then die of lung cancer, stroke or a heart attack, when you can stay in better shape by enjoying the music you already own? If you are taking your HIV medications on time every day, congratulations! Now get out there and move your body. And if you already move your body, check in on your friends and see if you can get one of them to join you. Maybe you can make it more fun by doing this with a group of friends. You can exercise for free all year long, even when there’s snow piled up to your windows. And just like other fun things that can become addictive, dancing for health can be addicting and you can enjoy it without getting busted or in trouble, unless your downstairs neighbor complains. If so, invite him or her to join you. Don’t let anything stand in your way of living a healthy and enjoyable life.