Are You Ready? U of T Students Explore Readiness to Engage in Exercise Among People Living with HIV and Multi-Morbidity

Building upon the research of their supervisor Dr. Kelly O’Brien, students in the MScPT Research Curriculum (2014-2015) Alya Simonik, Kyle Vader, Denine Ellis, Di Kesbian, and Priscilla Leung conducted a study to explore readiness to engage in exercise among people living with HIV and additional health related challenges (multi-morbidity).

Now graduates, these students partnered with Casey House, a specialty hospital that provides supportive care for people living with HIV. They embarked upon a qualitative study that has shone light on the need for health and social service providers to promote exercise as a safe and effective self-management strategy for people living with HIV and multi-morbidity.

Prior research has shown that exercise is safe and beneficial for people living with HIV, as it can help manage the challenges associated with HIV and multi-morbidity. This study aimed to explore readiness to engage in exercise, and influencing factors among people living with HIV and multi-morbidity.

A runner massages her sore ankle.

“Our goal was to explore perceptions around exercise, and how we can help this population access exercise by removing barriers” says co-investigator Kyle Vader. “I have a strong interest in chronic health conditions, and this study was an opportunity to hone my qualitative research abilities by conducting face-to-face interviews. It was a real privilege talking with participants and learning about their personal experiences around exercise and health.”

Study participants included fourteen adults (18+ years of age) who self-identified as living with HIV and at least two additional health-related challenges. The majority of participants were men (62%), with a median age of 50 years, all taking antiretroviral therapy. The most common concurrent health conditions included addiction (50%), asthma (36%) and mental health (26%).

The study found that participants expressed diversity in their readiness to engage in exercise: some didn’t think about exercise while others engaged on a daily basis.

“We discovered that while some participants were avid exercisers, others experienced barriers to living an active lifestyle, such as fears around falling, injury, illness and fatigue” explains co-investigator Alya Simonik. “Our results suggest that health and social service providers should offer more education about the many benefits of exercise for people living with HIV, and work to connect people living with HIV with physically and financially accessible forms of exercise.”

This study, titled Are you ready? Exploring readiness to engage in exercise among people living with HIV and multi-morbidity in Toronto, Canada: a qualitative study won the 2015 Breath in Life Poster Prize at the Department of Physical Therapy Research Day in July 2015, and has been published in BMJ Open.

Study investigators pose in front of their award winning poster at Research Day, 2015


Di Kesbian, Denine Ellis, Kyle Vader, Alya Simonik and Priscilla Leung with their award winning poster.