As a personal trainer, I know the antiaging benefits of fitness, and I've experienced them firsthand. When my mom died last year I switched to a vegetarian diet and started a weekly yoga practice. So far I've lost 25 pounds and my blood pressure has dropped 30 points without medication. I feel 10 years younger. It's just intuitive: Exercise works.
Last year a highly publicized New York magazine article chronicled the stories of dementia and other signs of early aging faced by a striking number of HIV patients. Just recently, German scientists have discovered that exercise slows down aging on a cellular level inside the body. That's right -- exercise helps keep our cells younger.
HIV slowly erodes the immune system, and this is of major concern when it comes to aging. Chronic pathogens that "are controlled, not cleared," such as HIV, "play an important role in accelerated aging because of their persistent drain on immune system resources," says Richard Jefferys of Treatment Action Group.
Studies have shown that over time, HIVers experience a more rapid onset of cognitive problems, such as memory loss; more susceptibility to infections; and higher incidences of cancer and cardiovascular, kidney, and liver disease. Starting highly active antiretroviral therapy early may reduce these problems but more research is needed.
Across the pond, German researchers have found that exercise actually has an antiaging effect on the molecular level. In the study middle-aged runners lost only about 10% of the length of their telomeres (the tiny end caps on DNA strands) compared to their 20-year-old counterparts. The longer your telomeres, the functionally younger and more active your cells.
This means exercise keeps you internally fit: younger from the inside out.
To remain healthy and active into your golden years, I strongly encourage a regular exercise program. Antiaging aside, the multiple health benefits are clear. Exercise reduces blood pressure, improves mood, lowers cholesterol, and reduces the risk of certain kinds of cancer. Any form of intense exercise done regularly over a long time will improve cell biology.
It's exciting to see science confirm what we've intuited for so long. HIVers may age more rapidly than out noninfected counterparts, but we don't have to accept this fact lying down. Hop on the treadmill instead.
Page is a certified fitness trainer and journalist. As president of Sam Page Fitness, he operates two private studios in Southern California. He contributes to several national and international magazines and also publishes a weekly e-newsletter from Sam Page Fitness and a daily blog at Peace Love Lunges.