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Running with Illness: HIV

Updated on May 15, 2007

Target heart rate

Your target heart rate is the rate (the number of times your heart beats per minute) at which you receive the maximum benefit from exercise. At your target heart rate, you're working hard but not too hard. To find your target heart rate, you have to measure your pulse at different times while you exercise. The table below gives target heart rates for different ages. If you're just starting out, aim for the lower end of your range. To measure your heart rate while you're exercising, find your pulse (usually easiest to find at your wrist near the base of your thumb, or on the side of your neck), and count how many times you feel your pulse beat in a minute. You can also count how many times you feel your pulse beat in 10 seconds, and then multiply this number by 6.

Age: Target Heart Rate Zone 50-75%

20 years: 100-150 beats per minute

25 years: 98-146 beats per minute

30 years: 95-142 beats per minute

35 years: 93-138 beats per minute

40 years: 90-135 beats per minute

45 years: 88-131 beats per minute

50 years: 85-127 beats per minute

55 years: 83-123 beats per minute

60 years: 80-120 beats per minute

65 years: 78-116 beats per minute

70 years: 75-113 beats per minute

If you don't want to take your pulse while you are exercising, here's some other ways to tell if your workout is too hard or too easy:

  • If you can talk while you exercise, you are not working too hard.
  • If you can sing while you exercise, you are not working hard enough.
  • If you get out of breath quickly, you are working too hard.

HIV Postive and Exercise

Being HIV positive is no different from being HIV negative when it comes to exercise. Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Early in the AIDS epidemic, HIV-positive persons had many health problems. They often had trouble keeping their normal weight and muscle mass. People wasted away and died.

Now that anti-HIV drugs have become available, many long-term survivors have stronger immune systems. Newly infected persons have hope for a normal lifespan, if they take care of their bodies. And that includes getting regular exercise.

Benefits of Exercise when HIV Postive

  1. Following are some of the benefits of exercise:
  2. Maintains or builds muscle mass
  3. Reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels (less risk of heart disease)
  4. Increases energy
  5. Regulates bowel function
  6. Strengthens bones (less risk of osteoporosis)
  7. Improves blood circulation
  8. Increases lung capacity
  9. Helps with sound, restful sleep
  10. Lowers stress
  11. Improves appetite

Before Getting Started

Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor about what you have done in the past for exercise; mention any problems that you had. Consider your current health status and other medical conditions that may affect the type of exercise you can do.

Make sure you can set aside time for your exercise program. The Surgeon General's report on exercise suggests 30 to 45 minutes a day of brisk walking, bicycling, or working around the house. This amount of exercise can reduce risks of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes.

If this amount of time seems too much, consider starting with 3 times a week. The important thing is consistency. This is an ongoing program and you will not benefit without consistency.

Types of exercise

Two types of exercise are resistance training and aerobic exercise. Resistance training--sometimes called strength training--helps to build muscle mass. Aerobic exercise is important because it strengthens your lungs and your heart. You can read more about these on the next couple of pages.

Resistance training

Resistance or strength training is important for people with HIV because it can help offset the loss of muscle sometimes caused by the disease. This form of exercise involves exertion of force by moving (pushing or pulling) objects of weight. They can be barbells, dumbbells, or machines in gyms. You can also use safe, common household objects such as plastic milk containers filled with water or sand, or you can use your own body weight in exercises such as push-ups or pull-ups. The purpose of resistance training is to build muscle mass.

Use the correct amount of weight for the exercise you are performing. You should not feel pain during the exercise. When starting a resistance training program, you should feel a little sore for a day or two, but not enough to limit your regular activities. If you do feel very sore, you have used too much weight or have done too many repetitions. Rest an extra day and start again using less weight.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise strengthens your lungs and heart. Walking, jogging, running, swimming, hiking, and cycling are forms of this exercise.

This movement increases the rate and depth of your breathing, which in turn increases how much blood and oxygen your heart pumps to your muscles. To achieve the maximum benefit of this kind of exercise, your heart rate should reach the target rate for at least 20 minutes. It may take you weeks to reach this level if you haven't been exercising much.

Designing an Exercise Program

When beginning an exercise program, start slow and build. Start any exercise session with a warmup. This can be as short as a few stretches if you are working out later in the day when your muscles and joints are already loose or a short 10-minute stretch session if you are working out first thing in the morning when your muscles and joints are still tight. Your warmup should not tire you out but invigorate you and decrease the risk of joint or muscle injury.

If you join a gym, ask about what comes with the membership. Many gyms offer a free evaluation, weighing and measuring you and asking what your goals are. Some gym memberships come with a free workout with a personal trainer and program to help you achieve your goals.

Finding a workout partner can be helpful for support and encouragement, and your workout partner can help with the last repetition of an exercise, which can help improve your strength.

A balanced exercise program is best. Starting with an aerobic exercise is a good warmup to a resistance training session. Remember that learning the correct form in a weight training program will lessen the chance of injury. Go at your own pace. You are not competing with anyone. Listen to your body. If it hurts, stop.


After an exercise session, you should feel a little tired. A little while later, however, you should have some energy.

Water - Drink it before, during, and after you exercise. When you feel thirsty you have already lost important fluids and electrolytes and may be dehydrated.

Eat well - Exercising tears down muscle in order to build it up stronger. You need nutrition to provide the raw materials to rebuild your muscles.

Sleep - While you sleep, your body is rebuilding.

Listen to your body - It will tell you to slow down or speed up.

If you are sick or have a cold, take a break. Your body will thank you.


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