for Veterans and the Public
Nutrition and Exercise
Nutrition is important for everyone because food gives our bodies the nutrients needed to stay healthy, grow, and work properly.
HIV causes the immune system to work very hard to fight off infections. This takes energy (measured in calories). For some people, this may mean that they need to eat more food than they used to.
If you are underweight — or you have advanced HIV disease, high viral loads, or opportunistic infections — you should include more protein as well as extra calories (in the form of carbohydrates and fats) in your diet.
Some people experience weight gain when they start HIV medications. Diet and exercise can help with weight gain. Talk to your provider if you have concerns about your weight. VA has resources to help! Check out the Nutrition and Food Services website for more information.
Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle when you have HIV. Benefits of exercise include:
- Maintains or builds muscle mass
- 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
- Improves appetite
Make sure you can set aside time for your exercise program. Experts recommend about 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderately aerobic activity per week. That means about 30 minutes of activity like brisk walking, bicycling, or working around the house, 5 days a week. This amount of exercise can reduce risks of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes.
If this amount of time seems too much, consider starting with 3 times a week. The important thing is consistency.
Before starting an exercise program, talk to your health care provider. Consider your current health status and other medical conditions that may affect your choice of activity.
Types of exercise
Two types of exercise are resistance training and aerobic exercise. Resistance training, sometimes called strength training, helps to build muscle strength and mass. Aerobic exercise is important because it strengthens your lungs and your heart. You can read more about the types of exercise from the MOVE! Program.
Designing a program
The VA MOVE! Program can help you get started. You can join group sessions, work with a coach, and more. VA MOVE! also offers virtual classes. Visit the MOVE! website and talk with your VA provider to get started.
- MOVE! Website
VA's program to assist with nutrition and exercise.
- My HealtheVet's Physical Activity Center
Advice on how to get started and maintain healthy exercise habits.
- Physical activity information
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Includes recommendations and guidelines for incorporating physical activity into your daily life.
- My HealtheVet's Healthy Eating Center
Advice on how to get started and maintain healthy eating habits.
- Choose My Plate
Choose My Plate is a program that can help you choose the foods and amounts that are right for you, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Fact sheet on nutrition and exercise when you have HIV
Includes tips on exercises for strength training, from the American Academy of Family Physicians.