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Mental Health

Exercise Can Lift Depression and Anxiety For People With HIV


Aerobic exercise, training at least three times a week, and exercising with a trainer showed the greatest benefits. 

New research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research shows that exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety in people living with HIV.

Specifically, researchers noticed that aerobic exercise, training at least three times a week, and exercising under professional supervision had the greatest benefits.

The study’s authors note these findings are significant given that exercise can be an added recommendation from doctors to those living with HIV. However, they still say results are varied, and argue that large studies are needed to fully examine the types of workouts that benefit anxiety or depression symptoms the most.

“The results of the meta-analysis for depression revealed a high and significant effect on depressive symptoms,” the authors explained, according to NAM AIDSmap. “A large and significant effect for anxiety was found at post-treatment.”

People living with HIV are two to four times more likely to have anxiety and depression than their HIV-negative peers, according to the study.

Dr. Andreas Heissel of the University of Potsdam in the Berlin-Brandenburg region of Germany conducted a meta-analysis of years-worth of findings around the benefits of exercise for depression and anxiety in adults with HIV. These studies were published between 1990 and 2018, and involved a total of 479 individuals across the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, India, the U.S., Iran, and Germany. 

As NAM AIDSmap points out, “eight of the studies examined the impact of traditional types of aerobic and resistance training, with two evaluating yoga.” Additionally, “Use of antiretroviral therapy was reported in six studies and data on antidepressant use were provided for two. The studies had a high retention rate and overall 90 percent of participants completed follow-up.”

Nine of these studies reported on depression, and those results showed that exercise had a highly significant effect. Five particular studies reported on anxiety, and once again, the results showed a positive effect.

“This meta-analysis showed the benefits of performing exercise for reducing depressive and anxiety symptoms well beyond the well investigated benefits for general health in people living with HIV,” Heissel pointed out.

Overall, Heissel and his team state that larger studies with more robust methodology could benefit the future of treatment for those living with HIV who also experience mental health struggles.

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