When I was in high school, part of our gym test was to climb a heavy rope suspended from the ceiling. Our grade was the amount of time it took to climb up and down the rope.

I got the symbol for infinity.

After this and other humiliating gym experiences (e.g., dangling from the chin-up bar like a side of beef while my classmates laughed and yelled "queer"), I always found solace at Murkens Ice Cream Parlor with a Banana Royale -- a delicious confection consisting of a whole banana, three scoops of ice cream, walnuts in syrup, chocolate sauce, real whipped cream, cherries, and sprinkles -- all for 55 cents.

Later in life needless to say the idea of joining a gym never held much allure. It was not until I was 30 and saw what time and gravity was doing to my body that I realized something had to change. Again and again, I would plan exercise programs that never happened, and purchase exercise magazines, books, and videos that collected dust until I finally threw them away. My best excuse was "I can't go into a gym looking like this!"

Finally, something snapped. I realized that joining a gym cost less than buying a whole new wardrobe in yet another, larger size. I joined the YMCA, lost weight, firmed up and became addicted to exercise. I tried desperately to make up for all those years of inactivity and Banana Royalties in just a few short months. Lack of training, doing too much too soon, and ignoring small injuries (no pain, no gain) resulted in a back injury that put an end to exercising for a long time. I looked around for something else and found yoga (no pain, no pain). It changed my life.

Move Your Body, Improve Your Mind

When I was able to exercise again, I made a deal with myself: do nothing extreme. All I had to do to start was one push-up and one crunch a day. Let me tell you the hardest push-up you will ever do is the first one. Today, I practice yoga and meditation daily, exercise moderately, eat almost anything I want and, at forty-something, feel better about myself than ever before. Exercising and doing yoga on a regular basis has brought great joy to my life. I am able to eat more and make healthier choices about food selection, which brings us to the point of this article: what to eat to sustain an exercise program. Usually, when we look at any issue involving food, nutrition, and HIV, there is a vast spectrum of opinions to consider. Surprisingly, eating and exercise is one area where everyone seems to agree.

Exercise is essential because it helps to create and maintain lean body mass (muscles) that serve as a buffer against any illness (HIV-related or not) when you do not eat enough and the body is forced to feed off itself. Exercise can take many forms: aerobic, weight bearing, dance, yoga, etc., but weight bearing is the type most recommended for people living with HIV (PLWHIV). Many PLWHIV have high metabolic rates that increase with aerobic exercise. If you enjoy aerobic exercise, make sure you are eating enough carbohydrate and fat calories; if not, your body will burn protein (muscles) as fuel, you will lose muscle mass and defeat the purpose of exercising. Exercise is a vital component of any health management plan one that may also include medical treatments and/or alternative therapies, emotional and spiritual support, and proper nutrition. Defining proper nutrition is usually where consensus breaks down; yet everyone from sports and HIV nutrition specialists to personal trainers and the big guys at the gym agree that carbohydrates are the key ingredient. The body transforms carbohydrates into glycogen that the body burns to create the energy we need to sustain physical activity.

I Don't Know Where Or When

The question people ask most after "What should I eat?" is "When should I eat it?" Here consensus is a little less consistent. Not because people have strong and varying opinions but because absolutely everyone I talked to when researching this article faced the same challenge: fitting an exercise program into a busy schedule. Fitting in an eating schedule was just too much for most people. (One friend brings two clean potatoes to work, microwaves them in the late afternoon, and then goes to his gym straight from work.)

When we begin eating, the body focuses the blood flow on the stomach to carry away nutrients as food digests. Exercising immediately after eating sends confusing messages to it. Our body is focusing on digestion while our mind is forcing it to pump oxygen into the muscles being worked. (Anyone who has or had two bosses knows how frustrating this can be.) Your mother was right yet again when she told you not to go swimming for an hour after you ate.

Remember to drink water during your workout to keep from dehydrating.