The optimal combination of type, frequency and intensity of physical activity for different populations in not known, yet there is a clear consensus that regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity is recommended for a healthy lifestyle. It is also important to select activities with cultural relevance for individuals.

In at-risk populations, careful consideration needs to be given to the prescription of physical activity to ensure that the conditions to promote positive health benefits are optimised. Physical fitness, physiological factors (heart and respiratory rates, blood sugar), diet and nutrition, hydration and the type and intensity of activity are factors that impact on the provision of physical activity and sport, particularly for people at risk of chronic non-communicable diseases. For example, walking, light cycling and swimming and other low-impact activities are often selected for people with cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.

There are a number of considerations for sport and physical activity programming that targets HIV/AIDS prevention across various settings:

Active learning models

Participatory game-based learning methods are increasingly being recognised as particularly useful in transmitting HIV/AIDS prevention messages and encouraging changes in attitudes towards HIV/AIDS and sexual health. In sports programmes, this approach towards HIV prevention has been favoured over ‘classroom-style’ teaching such as in school settings and workshop-based methods.

Overcoming barriers to delivering sensitive information

Active learning methods have proved useful in approaching the sensitive topics of HIV/AIDS and sex in ways that allow both mentors and young people to feel more at ease. Interactive games allow participants to address the subject of HIV/AIDS in an indirect way, with learning taking place in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Building capacity among youth leaders

The role of trusted adults in mentoring youth in order to develop youth peer leadersand youth mentors for younger children is increasingly being recognised as an important strategy in HIV prevention. Positive social networks (such as sports teams and after-school clubs) can be used as sites to identify, train and support mentors who can provide support to youth on how to mitigate social pressures that negatively influence behaviour. 

Collaboration with health services and specialists

When present, existing HIV prevention services must work alongside sport programmes. The strengths in sport programmes lie in the delivery of information through facilitated means and the role of mentors in providing psychosocial support to young people at risk. In addition, HIV prevention services such as Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT), Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) treatment andcondom provision are crucial to maintaining the effectiveness of an HIV prevention programme.

Image by Quino Al