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Exercise Can Improve Mental Health for People Living With HIV

By Warren Tong

August 15, 2013

Exercise can reduce the risk of neurocognitive impairment by half, according to a new study by the University of California, San Diego. This is certainly welcome news, given all the recent focus on mental health problems tied to aging with HIV.

Researchers led by David J. Moore, M.D., analyzed data from 355 people living with HIV. The participants were first asked if they had exercised within the last 72 hours and then split into two groups: 83 people were in the "exercise" group and 252 were in the "no exercise" group. Each group was then given a series of tests to evaluate seven cognitive areas commonly affected by HIV, including verbal fluency, working memory, speed of information processing, learning, recall, executive function and motor function.

The rates of global neurocognitive impairment were lower in the exercise group (15.7%) than in the no exercise group (31%). In particular, the exercise group had a better working memory and could process information faster.

Springer reported:

The major benefit of exercise to the brain seems to be the reduction of neurocognitive risk factors, such as high blood pressure and abnormally high levels of lipids in the blood. Metabolic syndrome associated with the use of antiretroviral treatment is also linked to an increase in cerebrovascular risk factors, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. [...]

"Exercise as a modifiable lifestyle behavior may reduce or potentially prevent neurocognitive impairment in HIV-infected persons," says Moore. "Physical exercise, together with other modifiable lifestyle factors such as education, social engagement, cognitive stimulation and diet could be fruitful interventions to support people living with HIV."

After controlling for other compounding factors, including demographics, CD4 count, AIDS status, substance use, depression and physical functioning, the researchers still found a statistically significant mental health benefit for the exercise group.

For people living with HIV, exercising and staying active has always been important. While more long-term evaluation is needed, since the data from this study only covers 72 hours of self-reporting, the results are encouraging and just one more reason for people living with HIV to get moving.

Warren Tong is the research editor for and

Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.

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