For the past 22 years, I have lived a healthy, robust life while dealing with HIV. I am lucky and grateful for my good health, but I believe it is also due to my habits around eating and exercise. These habits can work for anyone regardless of your status and will increase your chances of avoiding disease and staying super-healthy into old age.
Food practices that will support a healthier immune system:
Maximize the amount of fresh and frozen vegetables in your daily eating plan. Eat a salad as big as your head each day. Do a rainbow of colors when you choose vegetables.
Each meal you eat should look like a plastic plate divided up with the largest part being vegetables and the other two being protein and a starch source like beans, sweet potatoes, whole grains. Go for six-eight servings per day — basically as much as you like!
Eat good, lean proteins with each meal. Go with grass-fed beef, chicken, fish and pork. Eat fatty fish like salmon, sardines and shellfish, and also eggs and low-fat dairy products. Soy can be a substitute for animal protein. Shoot for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Eat smart carbohydrates. Go with the carbs that have the highest fiber per serving. This includes all vegetables, yams, beans and high-fiber breads and grain products. If you are trying to gain and maintain muscle, eat 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.
Eat the best fats: nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oils and seeds like flax and chia. Grass-fed butter and occasional animal fat is okay in moderation. Include anti-inflammatory sources of foods to boost the immune system. Use fermented foods that encourage positive gut flora: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles and sauces.
Avoid or limit these foods: • Sushi or undercooked foods. You are more likely to get sick if there are any sanitation issues, especially at restaurants. • Highly processed foods with sugar and flour: regular breads, pasta, sweets, certain protein bars and cereals that have high sugar content.
In a typical day, you will encounter opportunities for poor food choices about 75 percent of the time in the standard American diet (S.A.D.). Be very selective about what you eat. Order carefully when eating out and ask what is in the dish you are considering.
Generally, I encourage you to plan and use real food 90 percent of the time, but that is not always realistic. Here are some protein supplements that can help when you can’t eat a real meal: • Muscle milk • Myoplex or MetRX protein drink • Whey protein supplements • BCAA: branched chain amino acid pills (protein pills)
I encourage everyone to take a multivitamin, three fish0oil capsules and Vitamin D, along with your daily drug regime.
Exercise to support a healthier immune system and boost energy.
Exercise of any type has been clinically shown to boost your immune system. The original studies on exercise and immunity were done back in the ’90s on HIV patients. Survival rates were higher and life was better among the exercisers in the study groups.
I recommend three days or more of strength training, three-four days of interval cardio and one-two days of longer, slower cardio (walking, hiking, bike riding). Play a sport or do something outdoors that is active and fun — anything from dancing to gardening to playing tennis or softball.
Make sure your sleep habits are good. All healing and recovery takes place during restful sleep. Avoid alcohol and party drugs; they will only bring you down. Use them in moderation if you have to.
Be as social as possible and nurture friendships and relationships. Volunteer, get involved in a cause and give of yourself.
Have some daily form of relaxation and stress relief in place. Long-term stress is linked to inflammation and stresses your immune system.
Cultivate a spiritual life. Whether it’s church, Buddhist meditation or some other belief in a higher power, spirituality has relevance and importance in how you handle life, especially with the challenge of managing a chronic disease like HIV.
I hope you can incorporate some of these into your life. If you would like more info or coaching on how to be at your best physically, I am available at 12th Street Gym.