Make These 8 Lifestyle Changes to Stay Healthy With HIV
An HIV diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from living a long, healthy, and active life. By following your treatment plan and making a few basic lifestyle changes, you can expect to live as long (and as well) as anyone else in your community. Read on to discover 8 ways to live your best life with HIV.
Having HIV is no longer the death sentence it was believed to be 30 years ago. Thanks to the incredible medical progress made over the past few decades, people living with HIV can now expect to lead long and healthy lives as productive members of their communities.
But that doesn’t mean you should take your diagnosis lightly. After all, there’s still no known cure for HIV. While it can be successfully controlled with medications to ensure patients have near-normal lifespans, you still need to be diligent and mindful about living a healthy life overall in order to increase your chances of having the best possible outcome.
That’s why we promote a holistic approach to treating HIV. Because it’s about so much more than taking your medications regularly and making it to every doctor’s appointment. We want to help you make sure you preserve your vitality and live your best life!
To help you get started, we put together this list of 8 simple lifestyle changes you can make to live a long and healthy life with HIV.
8 Holistic Lifestyle Changes For Staying Healthy With HIV
- Take Your Treatment Seriously And Be Consistent
A new treatment plan is a big lifestyle change in itself. For many young people, it’s common for an HIV diagnosis to be the first time in their lives they’ve ever had to follow a treatment regimen. It can be extremely difficult to adjust to this new reality, especially for people who’ve never had to take medicine regularly.
But the consequences of not adhering to your prescribed plan can be severe. If you fall into the habit of skipping doses you run the risk of developing resistance to that drug, which could lead to the medication becoming totally ineffective in suppressing the virus.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to make it easier on yourself to maintain your routine. Like taking your pills in the morning or in the evening depending on what best suits your schedule, and making sure you take them at the same time everyday. You could also set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself when it’s time to take your medicine.
Another hack you could try is developing a system for following your regimen, like using a pillbox with slots for each day of the week. That way you can keep track of the days you’ve taken your medicine while also developing a habit which increases your likelihood of sticking to your plan.
- Eat Healthy Foods
Strong immune systems are built in the kitchen. Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet will help you maintain a healthy weight and give your body the energy it needs to fight HIV and other infections. It can also help you manage your symptoms and the side effects of your medication while improving the way your body absorbs and responds to the medicine.
There’s no specific diet recommended for people living with HIV. But in general, most people benefit from a diet that includes:
- Lots of fruits and vegetables
- Healthy carbs, like brown rice and whole grains
- Lean protein, like fish, eggs, or turkey
- Some dairy, like low-fat milk and cheese
- Healthy fats, like nuts, avocados, and olive oil
You should also make sure you drink plenty of water, and cut back on fried foods, sugar, and salt to maintain optimal health.
- Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is a key component for anyone trying to live a healthy lifestyle, but it’s especially important for people living with HIV. Being active builds muscle, burns fat, and keeps your bones strong and healthy.
Also, in addition to weight loss, people living with HIV can experience muscle loss. Exercising regularly is a great way to help prevent this. By increasing your strength, endurance, and fitness you’ll boost your overall health and help your immune system work better to fight infections and other symptoms.
Besides the physical benefits of a regular exercise routine, working out can also improve your social life by helping you get out of the house and meet new people. People who have HIV can do the same types of exercises as people who don’t. All you have to do is find an activity you enjoy and sign up for group fitness classes to meet like-minded people you already have something in common with.
- Take Care Of Your Mental Health
Emotional support is crucial for people living with HIV. In addition to the negative emotional effects of social isolation, people who don’t have an active social support system are less likely to stick with their treatment plan. Having strong relationships you can lean on in times of crisis can help you manage the emotional burden of having a chronic illness like HIV.
Whether you’re newly diagnosed, or you’ve known about your status for years, having HIV comes with its own unique set of challenges, stresses, and anxieties. Reach out to friends and family or join a support group (whether online or in person) to give yourself an emotional outlet to deal with your feelings in a healthy way.
Also, if you’re experiencing problems with your mental health, make sure you mention your symptoms during your regular doctor’s appointments. Some HIV drugs have side effects that mimic mental health issues, like insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Your doctor may suggest switching your antiretroviral treatment, or refer you for counseling depending on your situation.
- Get Plenty Of Sleep
Sleep is essential for both your physical and mental health. It gives your body and mind the chance to rest and recover and is especially important when fighting a chronic illness like HIV. Long-term sleep problems can cause the immune system to stop working properly, meaning that a person may become more likely to exacerbate their symptoms and worsen their condition.
People’s sleep needs vary, but you should aim to get between 6 to 9 hours every night to maintain optimal health. If you find it hard to fall asleep, try doing things to help yourself relax before going to bed, like taking a warm bath, doing breathing exercises, or journaling to help calm your mind.
- Quit Smoking
People with HIV who smoke have a higher risk of developing heart and lung conditions, cancers, and infections. Smoking can also interfere with your medicines and make them less effective or cause complications. Not to mention it significantly decreases your lifespan just like it does to anyone else.
If you smoke, it’s always a good idea to quit, especially if you have HIV. Talk to your physician if you have trouble quitting on your own. It gets easier and you’ll feel a lot better in the long run. The money you’ll save is just a bonus.
- Keep Up With Your Regular Medical Care
You should always have regular check-ups with your healthcare professional. They’ll monitor your progress and advise you on how to stay healthy long term.
It’s no secret that HIV increases your risk of developing other health issues. So it’s important to stay vigilant about your health and take a proactive and preventative approach to maintaining it whenever possible.
Follow your treatment plan and keep your doctor in the loop on any new developments. Also, don’t skip appointments.
- Take Care Of Your Gums And Teeth
Teeth and mouth issues can be common for people living with HIV. Brush and floss your teeth regularly and stay on top of your dentist’s appointments to help you deal with any potential problems.
Regular dental checkups are not only key to maintaining good oral health, but also for protecting your entire body from disease, including those of the heart, lungs, and brain. People with weakened immune systems are at particular risk since ulcers, gum disease, and tooth decay can all have serious consequences if they spread from the mouth to the rest of the body.
It’s important to identify oral health concerns early to allow for effective treatment before the problems progress and become more difficult to manage.
You Can Live A Full Life With HIV
We now have more scientific knowledge and treatment options available for HIV than ever before. By sticking to your treatment plan, and making these 8 lifestyle changes, you can expect to live a long, healthy, and happy life with HIV alongside your friends and family.
Of course, everybody living with HIV is different, and what you need to do to achieve a full and rewarding life will be unique to you. But an empowered approach to your care, such as making these lifestyle changes, is a great first step.
Looking after your physical and emotional health will give you the opportunity to figure out what a full life looks like for you. And, by being consistent, you’ll have the time and energy to go out and pursue it.