Exercise programme promotes positive living for people with HIV

Gscene Editorial Team December 5, 2019

Exercise programme promotes positive living for people with HIV

A new exercise programme is helping to address the physical, mental and social health related challenges faced by people living with HIV in Sussex. The Positive Living Programme at Sussex Beacon provides people with HIV the opportunity to participate in a physiotherapy supervised group based on individualised exercises, in a supportive and friendly environment.

After being referred to the programme, patients are offered an assessment to help determine the exercises they can do in the class and establish some practical goals. The classes, which involve exercises using an exercise bike, weights, resistance bands and floor mats, run every Wednesday for 1.5 hours at the Sussex Beacon.

The programme was developed collaboratively by Dr Jaime Vera, Senior Lecturer in HIV Medicine and Honorary Consultant Physician at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and Hattie Yannaghas, Senior Project Coordinator at the Sussex Beacon, in partnership with Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Vera, who received funding from Gilead to set up Positive Living, said: “Brighton and Sussex has a large population of people living with HIV, which is the oldest cohort of people with the condition in the UK and one of the oldest in Europe. Therefore, it’s really important that they have access to exercise and facilities that can improve the outcomes of many issues associated with HIV, such as isolation, ageing and comorbidities.

“Exercise and active living can really help to improve our physical and emotional health but not everyone has access to these facilities, or can find facilities that are tailored to their needs or requirements, and that’s a problem area that the Positive Living Programme is trying to address.”

Hattie Yannaghas added: “The programme has been really successful, with people showing a real keenness to attend the sessions every week, which has been great to see. People have told us they don’t feel comfortable going to the gym but feel they do feel comfortable here. One of the participants, who is visually impaired, found that he never received any support or help at his local gym, which meant he wasn’t able to exercise at all. Another has osteoporosis, and couldn’t find a gym that could support his physical needs, with the exception of short-term physiotherapy, so this seems to be a crucial service.”

Sarah Silberston, a physiotherapist at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, leads the classes, and she assesses the participants in order to develop goals and targets for each session. She said: “In addition to the classes each week, a few of the participants have also done things outside in their own time to improve their fitness further, which has been fantastic to see. Everyone has improved so it’s clearly working. There has been a lovely atmosphere in the classes too – it’s supportive and not competitive.”

The other main strength of the programme is that it builds friendships and a community. Dr Vera added: “The classes are small, which means you get to know other people who can support you. They offer a space where participants feel safe and don’t feel stigmatised, which is often not the case elsewhere.”

The Sussex Beacon has received additional grant funding from a variety of sources to run classes twice a week. Not only is this beneficial for people wanting to take part, it also helps to strengthen Dr Vera’s research, which is continuing alongside the programme. “All of the data we collect at the beginning and at the end of the programme, coupled with the feedback we get from the participants, will act as evidence to roll out the programme on a wider scale,” he said.

The Positive Living Programme is open to anyone living with HIV living in Sussex. To find out more see here or call 01273 694222.