Fit and fab — LGBT health concerns for a new year

Common health and fitness goals and tips for LGBT community members

New year resolutions. We all make them. Many of us end up breaking them. We start out with all the greatest intentions and by a few weeks in, we’ve either forgotten our new-found commitments or given up.

Our resolutions sometimes revolve around finances or life goals. Some of us will make health or fitness resolutions. For LGBT community members — who face a variety of unique health risks — making and keeping health-related new year resolutions is doubly important. Here are some areas to keep in mind, along with some tips, as you chart out your next year of personal growth and change.

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Stop smoking: LGBT people in the U.S. are two times more likely to begin smoking than their straight counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bisexuals, data suggests, are at even higher risks. The causes are various — social pressures and accompanying efforts to relieve stress, among them. Tobacco companies have in the past also directly targeted LGBT consumers through sponsorships and advertising. Smoking can lead to heart disease, cancer and a broad range of other health problems. Quitting today is one of the first, most positive and most long-lasting changes you can make to better your health. Need help, resources or tips? Visit the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network at lgbttobacco.org.

Substance abuse: LGBT people are also at greater risk for other types of substance abuse or dependence, including alcohol and drug abuse. Drinking or the use of other mind-altering substances can lead to long-term health problems. In the short-term, it could lead individuals into unsafe, risky or unhealthy situations, especially in social spaces like bars. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol and illegal drug use can contribute to increased risks for HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Methamphetamine (commonly called “crystal,” “crystal meth” or “speed”) is used at a higher rate by gay and bisexual men. Some use it for highs while simply dancing or clubbing, but the drug is also used in “party and play” (PNP) scenes — sometimes longterm parties lasting hours or even days — that commonly fail to offer safer-sex alternatives. Want to learn more about getting help with alcohol or drug use? For alcohol use, visit charlotteaa.org for local resources in the Charlotte area. The LGBT Center of Raleigh (lgbtcenterofraleigh.com) also hosts LGBT-inclusive AA meetings. In the Triad, Winston-Salem’s North Star LGBT Community Center (northstarlgbtcc.com) offers AA/NA and Al-Anon groups. For resources, tips and information on meth use, visit tweaker.org, an information and resource portal provided by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Fitness: LGBT people experience risks with fitness, obesity and eating orders, as well. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say adult lesbians may not exercise regularly and experience some higher rates of obesity, a leading cause of heart disease. Gay and bisexual men experience greater risks of body image problems, in turn leading to eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia. Speaking to your physician and coming up with a healthy weight goal and sticking to a plan that includes healthier eating habits and routine, daily exercise can help you achieve better fitness.

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Set goals: By far the best way to keep your resolutions is to start small and set achievable goals. For example, if you’re overweight, set a target weight and then set goals in smaller increments. Check in monthly to see that you’ve met these smaller weight-loss goals. As you keep these goals and see them successfully playing out over several weeks, you’ll feel better, knowing you’re on track to your ultimate destination.

Get tested: Gay and bisexual men, along with other men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women remain at higher risk for HIV infection. Recent data surveyed and studied over the past year also show that HIV infection rates continue to increase in MSM, though they are dropping among other demographic groups. And new data released in December shows that MSM also experienced increased rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia infection, again despite other demographic groups experiencing dropping or stable rates. Setting up a regular HIV and STD testing schedule is one of the most important ways you can increase your health. Knowing your status, whether for HIV or other STDs, enables you to take better health precautions and, if you should test positive, opens up opportunities for treatment — the single-most important step an HIV-positive person can take. Free HIV and syphilis testing is provided by almost all local county health departments or community groups. In Charlotte, free testing is offered at the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, 601 E. Fifth St., each Wednesday, 5-7 p.m. The LGBT Center of Raleigh, 324 S. Harrington St., hosts testing each Thursday at 6 p.m. : :

Want more resources and information on LGBT health? Download an in-depth information and resource kit on top LGBT health issues from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at 1.usa.gov/1xIe6Jt.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.