Importance of Exercise in People Living With HIV
Last updated: January 2023
Exercise may not be a priority if you are living with HIV, but it is essential for your health and well-being. There are many benefits for not only your body but also your mental health. These benefits include:1
- Improving your mood and sleep
- Reducing your stress
- Helping you stay focused
Exercise and physical activity are important for everyone, including people with HIV.
An increased risk
Many of the drugs used to treat HIV are known to change the way your body breaks down sugar. These changes can increase your risk of serious long-term health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.2
Research has shown a regular exercise routine can:2
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Build muscle
- Result in a higher quality of life
These benefits can decrease the risk of heart disease, mental health problems, and other health problems for people living with HIV.2
How much exercise do I need?
According to the 2020 World Health Organization guidelines on physical activity, adults need:3
- 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week or
- 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week or
- A combination of the 2
This may sound like a lot to someone who does not exercise regularly. Before starting any exercise program, talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
Keep in mind that you can take small actions to increase your physical activity levels to get to the goals above. Consistency is key. Taking a simple action, such as getting more steps in each day, can shrink your waist size and make daily activities easier.2
This is especially important for women with HIV. A study done in 2021 found that 46.2 percent of people living with a positive status reported low physical activity levels that do not meet current guidelines. The study found women are more likely to have lower physical activity levels, placing them at risk for health problems down the road.4
Aging with HIV
Older people with HIV are now living longer but are also more at risk of serious health problems as they age. Exercise can help offset these risks and has added benefits for older adults.
Physical activity in older people with HIV can:5
- Reduce rates of osteoporosis
- Reduce rates of osteoarthritis
- Lower risk of diabetes
Although there are benefits to exercise for older people, more research is needed to understand exactly how long and how often older adults should exercise for it to be the most beneficial.5
What type of exercise should I do?
There are benefits to both strength training and aerobic exercise for people with HIV. Strength exercises can improve muscle mass and strength, while aerobic exercise can help you feel less fatigue. Combining both types of exercise can result in:5
- A leaner body
- Better control of your cholesterol
- Improved everyday functioning
The best answer to this question is to do what you can. Find ways to increase your physical activity by doing activities you enjoy or can easily add to your daily routine. You can start by taking the stairs as often as you can or walking after each meal.
You can progress to an exercise routine over time, or you can choose to start a workout routine right away. There is no wrong way to start. Think about what your goals are and challenge yourself!
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