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It's Never Too Early to Take Charge of Your Health

December 2001

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Developing a comprehensive health plan is something that's better done sooner rather than later. This means a plan that addresses health as it concerns your whole being. It includes the health of your body (biological health), mind (psychological health), spirit (spiritual health), and community (social health).

Each area is connected to one another. So, improving health in one has benefits in other areas too. Studies show that people facing life-threatening illnesses who address health holistically live longer and have a better quality of life. Some people think holistic means excluding things, like medicines. Instead, it is an inclusive approach that uses medicines as needed, but also addresses other needs.

The key to creating a solid long-term plan is to make gradual improvements, ones that you can sustain and fit into your lifestyle. There's no one right way to do this -- no perfect recipe. In fact, tailoring a plan that you feel good about and matches your beliefs about health and well-being is central to success.

The Mind

The Mind

It's easy to see how improving the body might have a positive impact on your psychological health as well. Reducing stress not only strengthens the immune system, but it also clears the head! Many people with HIV experience depression, especially people who are co-infected with HIV and hepatitis B or C. A disproportionate number of people live with both HIV and mental illness. Some mental illnesses may be caused, sustained or worsened by HIV. Seeing a therapist, especially one with HIV experience, can help you manage the unique challenges of living with HIV. Seeking support groups with professional facilitation is another option. Resolving tensions or resentments, dealing with your fears, addressing depression and diagnosing and managing mental illness all help to improve your psychological health. This includes finding space and time to reflect on your life and your mental and emotional health.

The Body

The Body

Project Inform provides many resources about biological health and HIV. This includes information on anti-HIV therapy and preventing and treating serious infections. It also includes information on nutrition, stress reduction and strategies for understanding your test results and monitoring your health regularly. Building a strong foundation of biological health will strengthen your body, reduce side effects of therapies and increase the likelihood that you will benefit from therapies. Also, if you choose not to use therapies, strengthening your body will help it fight disease and remain healthy.

Get Enough Sleep

Eight hours a night is recommended. This isn't possible for everyone, especially women with young children and infants. But if you only sleep five hours a night, then five hours and fifteen minutes is an improvement!

Reduce Stress

Chemicals released in the body when you are stressed out weaken your immune system. A recent study suggests that stress decreases the benefit of anti-HIV therapy. Taking time for yourself, meditating, talking with friends about what's going on in your life and seeking support are all ways to promote health and reduce stress.

Eat Well

HIV hangs out in lymph tissue. Eighty percent of the lymph tissue in the body is in the gut, where food and nutrients are absorbed into the body. Eating three balanced meals daily is a good way to improve nutrition. Taking vitamins is probably not necessary if you're eating well, and it's likely true that the best way to get vitamins is from food. Still, adding a multi-vitamin to your daily diet is not harmful and could be helpful! Improve your diet gradually, in ways you can sustain and fit into your life. Sudden and dramatic changes in diet can cause stomach upset and other problems.


Blood and other fluids move more effectively through the body when our hearts beat faster and when muscles move. Keeping things moving helps your cells get to where they need to be, moves oxygen throughout your body and helps keep you healthy. Aerobic exercise -- like walking, running, swimming and biking -- is particularly good for keeping things moving. Again, gradual improvements are key to success. If you never go to a gym, then committing to stretching a few minutes each day is one way to start. You could also simply take a walk around the block and then extend your walking distance over time.

The Spirit

A number of studies suggest that people facing life-threatening diseases who have a strong spiritual foundation live longer and have a better quality of life. Whether that foundation rests in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, native spiritual beliefs or religions of nature may be less important than nurturing a spiritual well-being that supports your beliefs in a personally meaningful and life-affirming way. There are many spiritual paths to explore. For one person this may be Catholicism; for another it may be Wicca. For someone else it may be a personal spiritual path of expression not associated with an organized religion.

The Community

Social networks are critical to promoting health and well-being. These include friends, family and the people in the various communities you identify with. Improving social health might mean changing the relationships you have, like ending relationships that are harmful. It might mean nurturing and strengthening existing or new relationships. Social health is about cultivating a network of people around you who support you in exploring and achieving your potential. They help you in difficult times and speak with you openly and honestly. Social health is also about giving back to the community. This might include volunteer work, becoming involved in civic activities or starting a buddy network of people who help each other.

These are just a few things to start thinking about when building a holistic foundation of health. You might find it useful to keep a diary. You could record things like your lab work, menstrual cycles and changes, how you're feeling and any symptoms or health conditions you're experiencing. You could also outline what you're doing to promote your health in various areas.

Project Inform is mostly a resource for biological health, as it relates to treating HIV and its related conditions. Biological health is only one aspect of overall health, however, and information about therapies and ways to treat HIV is not the entire picture of biological health. It also includes general healthcare, routine physicals and age-appropriate screening (like mammograms to detect breast cancer, bone density screenings for osteoporosis, etc.), addressing substance use and addiction to name a few.

Resources for exploring and promoting psychological, spiritual and social health are available in your local community. How you address health in these areas will likely be as unique as you are. There's no one holistic health plan that's best for everyone. The first step to defining what's best for you requires you to define health for yourself.

Back to the Project Inform WISE Words December 2001 contents page.

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

This article was provided by Project Inform. It is a part of the publication WISE Words. Visit Project Inform's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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