HIV & Exercise

Being HIV positive is no different from being HIV negative when it comes to the importance of exercising . Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle.

People diagnosed with HIV can live long, healthy lives, if they get medical care and take care of their bodies. This includes getting regular exercise.

Therefore, exercise must form part of a plan for people living with HIV, but different types of exercise are appropriate depending on where an individual is in their HIV treatment progression. Exercise can play a role in controlling some of the long-term side effects such as altered body composition and elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose.

Benefits of exercise

  • Maintains or builds muscle mass and decreases fat, helping to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels (less risk of heart disease)
  • Increases energy
  • Regulates bowel function
  • Strengthens bones (less risk of osteoporosis)
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Increases lung capacity
  • Helps with sound, restful sleep
  • Lowers stress and can improve depression
  • Improves appetite
  • Reduces the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer

Moderate exercise improves cardiovascular and nervous system function in individuals living with HIV. Studies have shown that moderate exercise for 10 weeks, 3 times a week for 45 minutes each session, significantly improves the nervous system and circulation in those individuals living with HIV. 

Before starting any exercise program, consult with your healthcare provider to see if he or she has wants to set any limitations on your activities. When you really are not feeling good you should not exercise, but you need to figure out what is just general malaise and what is a more serious fatigue or illness.

What to do when you not feeling well

 The general rule of thumb is that if you are feverish, dizzy, have swollen joints, pain in your feet or hands, vomiting, diarrhea,  open sores, bleeding gums, or blood in the urine or stool, do not exercise. Listen to your body. If you get overly tired in the middle of a workout, it is time to stop. Be flexible and be patient with your body and your workout.

Fitness is divided into several different components, all of which are important to a person with HIV. These components are resistance training, cardiovascular training, flexibility training, balance training, and mind-body training.

Asymptomatic Individuals with HIV (CD4 count over 500 cells/mL) - You might start working out 2 or 3 times per week for 20 to 30 minutes at the easy level. Over the next several weeks, consider increasing the time up to 30 minutes, but probably not over 60 minutes per session, for up to five times per week, working mostly in the moderate range but every so often going into the difficult range (not staying there for long).

Symptomatic Individuals with HIV (CD4 count ranging from 200-500 cells/mL) - You might start off working out up to three times per week in the easy range for 15 to 20 minutes or as tolerated. Some days you may be able to go longer and other days you may not.

Having a realistic exercising timetable  

As you get stronger, you may be able to gradually move up into the moderate range for as long as 40 minutes per session up to four times per week. Monitor yourself and do not overtrain. If you are overly fatigued or exhausted, take a couple of days off to recover. Then start exercising again at a slightly lower intensity.

Individuals living with Aids (CD4 <200 cells/mL) will want to begin very gently. You might workout up to 15 to 20 minutes, up to three times per week as tolerated. You should progress cautiously over the next several weeks up into the moderate range for 20 to 30 minutes 3 times per week at the most. The rule of thumb here is to do what you can do but do not overdo it. Be aware of your fatigue and exhaustion level and stop before you reach critical.


After an exercise session, you should feel a little tired. A little while later, however, you should have some energy.

  • Water: Drink it before, during, and after you exercise. When you feel thirsty you have already lost important fluids and electrolytes and may be dehydrated.
  • Eat well: Exercising tears down muscle in order to build it up stronger. You need nutrition to provide the raw materials to rebuild your muscles.
  • Sleep: While you sleep, your body is rebuilding.
  • Listen to your body: It will tell you to slow down or speed up.
  • If you are sick or have a cold, take a break. Your body will thank you.

Working out is an important component of every person with HIV's treatment regimen. It is often overlooked or underemphasized. The proper combination of resistance, cardiovascular, flexibility, balance, and mind-body training can help keep the person with HIV healthy for many years to come. It is important to find the right balance and to find things that you enjoy and will participate in.

Exercise can also help you to minimize some of the long term side-effects of many medications including changes in body composition and elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugars. You should make exercise just as important as your daily medication regimen.

Read more:

10 exercise motivators

Assess your risk for HIV/Aids (General)

(Dr Avron Urison, Frbruary 2013) 

(Dr Avron Urison, Medical Director at AllLife Pty Ltd - providers of life insurance for HIV positive individuals ) 

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