HIV and Fitness

By Danny Bonvissuto Decades ago, an HIV diagnosis meant sickness and a shorter life. Exercise wasn’t even part of the conversation.Today, HIV is more of a lifelong disease than a life-threatening one.“In large part, due to the good medications we have now, the lifespan for people with HIV is close to that of people without…

By Danny Bonvissuto

Decades ago, an HIV identification meant sickness and a shorter life. Exercise was not even part of the dialogue.

Today, HIV is much more of a lifelong disorder than a life threatening one.

“In large part, due to the good medications we have now, the lifespan for people with HIV is close to that of people without HIV,” states David Hardy, MD, a medical and scientific consultant for the American Academy of HIV Medicine.

That makes exercise an essential portion of the conversation. Living longer means taking good care of your own body for the long haul.

“Exercise is medicine,” says exercise physiologist Joe Cannon. “It offsets depression, stimulates your immune system, and can make your microbiome, or the bacteria that live in your large intestines, healthier. If you could put exercise in a pill, everyone would take it.”

Benefits of Exercise for People Who Have HIV

People that are HIV-positive are more likely than others to possess diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and risk factors for these illnesses. Additionally, a possible side effect of some HIV medications is weight reduction , which could further raise your risk for these conditions.


This means that the advantages of exercise are equally as important (or more so) for you as they are for anyone else. Exercise brings daily and long-term advantages.

Daily physical action may:

  • Boost your disposition
  • Help you focus
  • Keep stress levels reduced
  • Make your sleep more restorative

All of them are important for continuing good health.

Over the years, exercise will help you:

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Despite the many benefits of exercise, a significant amount of people who have HIV do not do it.

“Some people don’t feel good in their own body and think gyms are only for the beautiful people,” Cannon says. He states the stigma some people feel from having HIV can keep them from gyms or by getting out and being active. A lack of social support may hold them back, too.


If you do not feel comfortable at public facilities, ask a friend or family member to work out with you. This gives support and makes you accountable to someone else for becoming fit.

Money is frequently another concern. “Thirty to 35% of people with HIV live at or just above the federal poverty line,” Hardy says.

But fitness doesn’t need to cost anything. Plus it does not need a gym.

A solid exercise program has just 3 components:

“Start with 1 to 2 days a week, 20 to 30 minutes at the beginning, then gradually up it to 3 to 4 days a week,” Cannon suggests. “This will minimize the pain you feel after exercise or activity you’re not used to.”

Strength ( Muscle

Before successful HIV treatment, wasting syndrome was a struggle. The disease uses your muscle tissue as a source of energy.


“Untreated HIV infection is a very active and calorie-burning process,” Hardy says. “The body would burn muscle tissue, and people wasted and looked very ill.” Today, HIV medications prevent that from happening.

Still, muscle loss and building muscle might be larger challenges for those who have HIV than for others. 1 small study showed that elderly adults with HIV lose muscle at precisely the same rate as anyone else their age. But, when they tried to build muscle through an exercise program, they did not build as much as individuals who are HIV-negative.

But don’t be discouraged. The benefits of exercise go beyond what you can see.

“Muscle mass and strength aren’t the same thing,” Cannon says. “We put a lot of emphasis on what we can see in the mirror, but on the cellular level, a lot of things are happening.”

If you’re just beginning, Cannon suggests one particular set of strength training exercises).

“For muscle to grow, you have to put it under some sort of stress or resistance,” he says. “One set of strength training exercises, like machines, free weights, resistance bands, or body weight exercises, will build strength. It’s going to take 8 to 12 weeks for your body to adapt. Don’t be in a hurry to progress to three sets. One set will build strength and endurance. You can get stronger but not look like a bodybuilder.”

Building Muscle With Supplements

Supplements like plant or animal protein powder, creatine, and beta-hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB), may help you build and maintain muscle. Many have no interactions with HIV drugs, with one exception.

“One class of HIV medications we rely on very heavily now are integrase inhibitors,” Hardy says. “If a supplement contains calcium, magnesium, iron, or aluminum, it can lessen the effects of this HIV medication.”

Check with your doctor before you take any nutritional supplements. If you want to have a supplement with one or more of these elements, your physician may suggest that you space out it 2 to 6 months after you take your medication. That way, the two of them are not in your gut at precisely the exact same moment.

What About Opportunistic Infections?

You can pick up weights in the gym, but you’re not likely to pick up an opportunistic infection (OI). That’s because OIs come from within you, not in surfaces that are sweaty.

“OIs come from the bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections our bodies are already carrying,” Hardy says.


In individuals who have a healthy immune system, the human body keeps these illnesses at bay, and they never develop into illness. However, in people who have untreated HIV or whose medications don’t work, these illnesses can progress and make you sick.

OIs are somewhat less common now as a result of effective HIV therapy . The fitness center will not alter your risk for these infections. The best way to stop these is to take your HIV medicine.

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