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How do New Year’s resolutions apply to men living with HIV?

How do New Year’s resolutions apply to men living with HIV?

a group of men standing in a warehouse, topless with body parts painted on their torsos

The following article was written with support and funding from Gilead Sciences Europe Ltd.

With the start of a New Year, how many of your friends are planning and promising their resolutions for 2019?

Millions of people across the world will ring out the refrain ‘new year, new me’ as they make major life changes to coincide with the start of a new year.

But how does the ‘new year, new me’ mantra apply to men living with HIV?

In the early days of the epidemic, receiving an HIV diagnosis was often seen as a death sentence. But now, people living with HIV (PLHIV) have a life expectancy much the same as the general population.

In fact, 1 in 3 PLHIV in Europe are aged over 50, with many living well into senior years, some even living into their 90s.

20 years ago an HIV diagnosis could literally mean a death sentence for many people, but nowadays, wherever antiretroviral treatments are available, we can live long and fully,’ said Paolo, a man living with HIV in Portugal.

‘Therefore, it can be useful to know more about our own health, as we need to get ready for a possibly long life, full of challenges and experiences.’

New Year, New Me

Paolo is one of many men with HIV who, beyond taking their antiretroviral HIV treatments, are very serious about looking after their bodies. He joined the ‘HIV is: Just a Part of Me’ campaign to help people start thinking about their health beyond their HIV viral load.

Even though HIV is considered a long-term health condition, there are increased chances of other health problems – comorbidities – for people with HIV.

Those health problems could be as the result of lifestyle choices, the progression of HIV in their bodies or as a side-effect of treatments.

Some of the comorbidities include: diabetes, heart disease, reduced kidney function, cancer, liver disease, lung infections, bone problems and mental health issues.

For Paolo, looking after his lungs is one of his top priorities.

My lung health is important to me and it has been challenging as I’ve been smoking since I was a kid,’ he said.

‘Now that I’m growing older and I am more aware if my overall health, I’m doing my best to smoke less.’

How does Paolo do it?

Paolo has committed to making positive goals for his health over the next 12 months. One of those goals is to avoid smoking.

As I live in a city in which it is still possible to smoke in many bars and pubs, I try to avoid those where I know everybody is smoking around, I use my lunch break to go to the gym, instead of sitting and having a heavy meal followed by coffee and cigarettes,’ he said.

‘Generally speaking, I try to avoid situations in which I may want to smoke, so it is easier to keep it under control.’

What you need to consider

When setting health goals people with HIV have four simple questions they need to ask themselves and their healthcare team.

  1. Does living with HIV or any of my lifestyle factors put me at increased risk of diabetes/heart disease/kidney problems/bone problems /cancer/liver disease/lung disease/mental health issues?
  2. Do I need to make changes to my lifestyle or treatment choices?
  3. Can I be screened or tested?
  4. What signs or symptoms should I look out for?

Gilead’s disease awareness website HIV is: Just a Part of Me has a lot of information about these topics.

HIV is: Just a Part of Me

Paolo joined the original campaign along with 10 other men from across Europe to share their stories about the way they live with HIV.

Each man had a tattoo-style body art painted on their skin to show the serious impact HIV can have on the body.

Paolo had lungs painted on his skin and he suggests people should find individual methods that work for them to look after their health.

‘My advice is to not underestimate health issues when they are present, and get checked timely, but more generally I would advise to try the healthiest possible strategies within your lifestyle,’ he said.

‘If you hate lifting weights, but you want to be fit, probably a traditional-gym workout will be frustrating for you in the long run, but you might have fun engaging in other forms of exercise that better suit your personality and needs.’

He also recommends understanding how your HIV antiretroviral treatment works and the impact it may have on your body.

‘HIV is just a part of me because it has affected many things in my life, but not the way I am,’ Paolo said.