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Can Exercise Help HIV-Positive People With Depression?

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Exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety in people living with HIV, notes a new study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

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 doctors often recommend exercise to those living with HIV. However, they still say results are varied, and argue that larger studies are needed to indicate what workouts 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. “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 Germany conducted a meta-analysis of nearly two decades-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, with locations including sub-Saharan Africa, India, the U.S., Iran, and Germany.

“Eight of the studies examined the impact of traditional types of aerobic and resistance training, with two evaluating yoga,” NAM’s AIDSMap reports, while “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 provided major benefits. Five studies examined anxiety, and they likewise found that exercise had a positive impact.

“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.

Larger studies with better methodology could help improve treatment for those living with HIV who also experience mental health struggles, Heissel and his team concluded.

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