Health tips for living positively with HIV

Care and support and resourcesHIV and AIDSSexual Health

By Elijah Ogeda

If you are living with HIV, you need to take good care of yourself and follow extra precautions to protect your health and immune system. By keeping your body as healthy as possible, you can help it to fight off viruses and other types of infections.

It is important for people living with HIV to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Photo: Amy Church/Tearfund
It is important for people living with HIV to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Photo: Amy Church/Tearfund

People living with HIV need to incorporate healthy habits into their lifestyle. Following these eight tips can help.

1. Practise safer sex
Following safer sexual practices is essential. Make sure you understand how HIV is transmitted to reduce the risk of passing it on to others. Always use condoms and make sure you put them on correctly. This not only helps to avoid the spread of HIV, but will also help to protect both you and your partner against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

2. Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections
If you have an STI in addition to HIV, you may be more likely to transmit both HIV and your STI to someone else. Some STIs can also worsen HIV and make it progress more rapidly. HIV can make some STIs more difficult to treat, so you need to seek medical help for an STI as soon as possible. Getting tested is essential because many STIs do not cause any symptoms – without testing, you may not even realise that you have one.

3. Prevent infections and illnesses
Since HIV makes your immune system less effective, you become more vulnerable to all the viruses, bacteria and germs that you are exposed to. Wash your hands frequently to help prevent diseases, and make sure that all of your vaccinations are up to date.

4. Follow your doctor’s instructions about your medication
It is very important to take your HIV medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Missing even one day of antiretroviral therapy (ART) can give the virus an opportunity to become resistant to the medicines, making them ineffective. Always have your medication with you so that if you are away from home, you will not miss a dose.

5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
If your body is well nourished, it will be better able to cope with HIV and fight infections. Try to eat a variety of foods every day, including plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you are living with HIV you will need ten per cent more calories than someone who is not HIV-positive, and up to 30 per cent more if you are recovering from an illness. Ask your health worker for advice about the best diet for your situation.

6. Stop smoking and avoid drug or alcohol abuse
Giving up cigarettes is beneficial for anyone. Stopping smoking will help you to feel better and live a healthier life, and will greatly reduce your risk of serious problems such as heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Alcohol and drug abuse is damaging to your health and can increase feelings of depression. Try to avoid any form of illegal drugs.

7. Manage physical and emotional health problems
Everyone’s experience of living with HIV is different. Some people may experience depression or feelings of anxiety and stress. These can worsen any physical pain associated with HIV. Keeping stress, depression and pain under control can help improve your physical and emotional health. See a mental health professional if you feel you are experiencing depression, and be sure to mention whether you are taking medication for HIV.

8. Exercise your mind and body
Physical and mental exercise can keep your mind and body strong. Regular physical exercise, such as walking, cycling, running or swimming, keeps you physically fit and can lessen stress and depression. Physical exercise helps the immune system as well. Allow your body to recharge each night with enough sleep. Mental exercise, such as doing a daily crossword puzzle or playing brain-challenging games, can improve your memory and concentration.

Many people feel powerless when they are diagnosed with HIV, but this is not the case. By following the tips above, you can take control and live a healthy, active life.

Elijah Ogeda is a Footsteps reader from Kenya.

Elijah Ogeda