If you have the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, you need to be especially vigilant about keeping your immune system strong and healthy. HIV kills important cells in the immune system called CD4 lymphocytes, or T cells. In people with HIV, the number of T cells can fall dangerously low, leading to a weakened immune system state called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. If you have HIV, start by taking these steps to get in the best physical shape possible.
Take Your Medication on Time
Many studies have shown a link between taking HIV medications on schedule and as prescribed — sometimes referred to as adherence to antiretroviral therapy, or ART — with an increase in a person’s level of healthy T cells. Other studies have shown that adherence to ART is second only to T cell count in predicting a person’s prognosis. Skipping doses of medication or not taking HIV medication on time has been shown to increase the likelihood of hospitalization, the progression of HIV to AIDS, and even death.
Eat Healthy Foods
Following a healthy diet can help keep your immune system strong. Foods like fish, beans, and nuts contain protein, which can help you build and maintain muscle, while fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals and also keep you feeling full. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the right diet can also help your body absorb HIV medications.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
If you have HIV, using drugs and drinking alcohol can compromise an already weakened immune system. They can also impair your judgment, says the CDC, leading to risky behavior like engaging in unsafe sex and forgetting to take your HIV medications on time and as prescribed. Drugs and alcohol can also interfere with or interact dangerously with the medications used to keep HIV in check.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Tooth and gum problems are common in people with HIV, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. When your immune system is compromised by HIV, conditions such as oral warts, fever blisters, thrush, and canker sores are more likely to develop. Many people with HIV/AIDS also experience dry mouth, which can increase the risk of cavities and make it difficult to chew and swallow normally. Brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the dentist at least every six months, can help prevent such problems.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Reducing stress is an essential part of your treatment regimen, as the chronic stress of living with HIV by itself can take a big toll on your overall health and well-being. Findings reported by the University of California, San Francisco, describe a link between stress and reduced immune system function. Stress can also interfere with your appetite, sleep patterns, and other aspects of your daily life. Some great ways to manage stress include yoga, meditation, exercise, and counseling or therapy. To get the best results, talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.