An HIV diagnosis was once a death sentence, but that is no longer the case for those of us who stay healthy. In fact, the average HIV-positive person today is expected to live to be nearly 80, roughly on par with the general population. As more and more people reaching the century mark, here's a list of the best things you can do — besides adhering to your medication regimen — that'll help you have a long, healthy life.
1. Keep Your Head in the Game
Depression, stress, and anxiety are tough for people to overcome, but these conditions can also harm your immune system. Psychotherapist Melissa Lopez works with her HIV-positive patients to develop a plan once their moods start to sour.
"When you're already working with a compromised immune system, pre-depression or anxiety can bring on a lack of motivation," she says, which can lead to people slacking on their meds. Lopez suggests finding a professional counselor, especially when you're first diagnosed with HIV, to form a plan to deal with anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings. Know the symptoms of depression, know the symptoms of anxiety, so you know what's happening to you," she says. "You have to be proactive to prevent another, deeper cycle of depression."
2. Beat Back the Blues
Even when things don't seem like they're going your way, looking at things with a positive attitude may be enough to help you get through a tough situation, and even live longer. One study indicated that people in their 20s who used mostly positive, affirmative words to describe themselves were more likely to live into their 80s than those with negative outlooks. Additionally, people with a more positive view of life tend to have fewer strokes, coronary problems, injuries, and colds, and positive-thinking women have healthier pregnancies.
3. Nurture Your Gut
The lymphoid tissues in a person's stomach are filled with T cells. Because HIV affects T cells, many people with HIV have gastrointestinal problems, but a healthy GI tract is crucial to proper absorption of antiretroviral medication. Some anti-HIV meds need to be taken with food to assure this absorption and avoid potential side effects such as diarrhea. Many HIV-positive folks could also benefit from probiotics and a high-fiber diet, APLA's expert Brian Risley says.
4. Shake Your Groove Thing
Exercise helps control your weight, fights cardiovascular disease, and lets you look fantastic in an old pair of jeans, but it can also help boost your T cells. Brian Risley, the manager for treatment education at AIDS Project Los Angeles, says some studies have shown that moderate activity, even in short bursts, spurs an uptick in T-cell counts, even when it doesn't have a serious effect on viral load. Exercise can also help you feel better between your ears.
Says Lopez: "Exercise is beneficial because we produce hormones that help calm us down when we exercise." According to the Mayo Clinic, most people should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
"Walk, go to the gym, dance around your house," Lopez adds. "Anything is good, as long as it makes you feel good."
5. Listen to Your Inner Music
Loss of brain function is often a difficult side effect of both HIV and aging. Galina Mindlin, MD, coauthor of Your Playlist Can Change Your Life, has created Brain Music Therapy, a method of converting a person's brain waves into music to help them concentrate, sleep, and deal with stress or depression. But, says Mindlin, your medulla oblongata doesn't need to be the next Mozart to benefit from music. Any song from your playlist that calms you can be Kayne West, Ozzy Osbourne, or Native American flute solos can help you rewrire your brain and change your behavior in as little as two weeks if you play it twice a day for five minutes.
6. Get Jiggy With It
Orgasms can be wonder drugs in themselves: They help you sleep, boost your immunoglobulin levels (which fight infections), and reduce stress and depression. So get it on once or twice a week, just don't forget to play safe.
7. Have a Little Faith
No matter if you worship in a cathedral, a temple, or on the sofa, most physicians believe that some form of spirituality can help people better cope with their health problems. Religion can also help you build their social circle and feel generally more positive.
8. Make Friends —Not Just the Online Kind
Having strong relationships with other people can be a matter of life or death. A joint review by Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of existing research on the topic found that people with weak social connections were 50% more likely to die in the research's follow-up period "an average of 7.5 years" than their peers with strong social bonds. To fight feelings of loneliness, Lopez encourages joining support groups for people with HIV or finding friends or family members you can depend on to let you vent to every once in a while.
"Do not isolate yourself, and don't make [HIV] a secret," Lopez says. "I always think that clients, no matter how long they've been living with HIV, should find other people to talk to."
9. Kick the Habit for Good
It's common knowledge that cigarettes are bad for everyone, but an estimated 60% of HIVers still smoke.
"In the beginning, when people had an AIDS diagnosis and they were given eight to 16 months to live, we overlooked their smoking habit," Risley says. As people are living longer, it's important to remember that smoking may cause mitochondrial infections'mitochondria are an energy-producing feature of human cells. Also, some people with HIV have a heightened susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, and smoking compounds that risk. Plus, of course, there's smoking's association with lung cancer.
10. Take Your Vitamins
Many doctors recommend their patients take a general multivitamin to supplement their diet, but HIVers can also benefit from supplements like selenium, which has been shown to boost immunity in HIV patients while suppressing level of virus in the body. Other helpful supplements include vitamin D and calcium for bone health, and iron to fight anemia, especially for menstruating women. Still, those with HIV should also be careful of some supplements that might have averse reactions to antiretroviral treatment. Risley says Saint-John's-wort, for example, does not mix well with antiretrovirals or some other drugs, like statins, which lower one's cholesterol. Talk with your doctor, then take your Flintstones.
11. Get Testy
People tend to experience a drop in testosterone levels once they advance past the age of 50, but HIV can also lead to a sharper drop in the hormone. Constant fatigue can be an indication that the virus is affecting your testosterone. While some doctors may write you off as just being tired from having the virus, Risley says both men and women should insist on being tested for chronic testosterone loss if fatigue is a persistent problem. If your levels are low, you and your doctor may want to consider testosterone replacement therapy to help you stay alert.
12. Skip the Sushi
When your T-cell count goes below 200, you become more susceptible to bacterial infections. Risley suggests avoiding raw foods like sushi or oysters, which may contain fungi or bacteria. You should also avoid soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk (Brie, Camembert) and any with mold (Roquefort or other blue cheeses). All meats should be well cooked, and leftovers should be refrigerated immediately or tossed out. Risley also suggests the same cooking method for those who use medicinal marijuana. "I've heard a few doctors who tell their patients who smoke marijuana, to nuke it in the microwave for 30 seconds," he says. "That kills a lot of the trace bacteria or fungus that may remain on the plant." Risley also said to buy marijuana only from reputable vendors. In the past, he has used canada weed delivery services from reputable pharmacies to ensure he can accurately trace their origins.
13. Hose Down Your Veggies
Even if thinking about all the hands that have touched your produce from the farm to your table doesn't give you the willies, Risley suggests using a fruit- and vegetable-specific spray to clean raw produce. Even better, you can make your own veggie wash, one part vinegar to three parts water. Wash, rinse, eat —what could be simpler?
14. Build Your Own Dream Team
Not everyone can afford a team of celebrity doctors, personal chefs, and expensive therapists, but most HIVers have access to qualified professionals at local HIV clinics and organizations. Consider talking to a nutritionist to find out which foods that are right for your needs as well as seeing a qualified counselor to determine a plan to strengthen your mental health. While professionals at private practices may unaffordable for some people, many offer a sliding fee scale, with the fee is based on what you can afford to pay. Don't be afraid to ask. Lopez also suggests doing some research to assure that a potential therapist has some understanding of HIV/AIDS, and any community or culture that you may also identify with, like Asian, African-American, Latino, or LGBT.
15. Consider Personalized Meds
One of the burgeoning trends in the medical field is personalized medicine for a patient based on their demographic information and genes. "We're going to have a lot more genetic tests for people to specifically tailor medication," Risley says. "We just assume that if you take this one particular medication, your body will absorb it, but not everyone has the same absorption capabilities." While genetically tailored treatment is not widespread, it may be soon. Talk to your doctor about developments regarding ailments such as depression, colorectal cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Golden rule: Don't be negative about being positive!