Exercise

Michael Carter, Selina Corkery

Everyone can benefit from some form of exercise. Whatever your age, there's strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help keep you healthy.

Doing regular exercise reduces the risk of many diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, bone problems such as osteoporosis and some cancers. These conditions become more common as people age, but there’s some evidence that people with HIV may be at higher risk of them than people without HIV. 

Research shows that physical activity can also help with your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Exercise can boost self-esteem, mood, quality of sleep and energy, reduce your risk of stress and depression, and help ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Aside from popular forms of exercise like swimming, cycling, aerobics, running and weight training (sometimes called resistance training), there are a number of movement-based exercises, such as yoga, which help maintain muscle tone and suppleness whilst also having meditative or relaxing qualities. 

Blood lipids are the name given to fatty substances in the blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides. Having high levels of these substances in the blood raises your risk of coronary heart disease. Some anti-HIV drugs can cause increases in raised blood lipids. Raising the heart rate through aerobic exercise (such as cycling, running, swimming, or even brisk walking) reduces these fats, and lowers risk of heart disease. Resistance exercise also reduces raised triglycerides and cholesterol levels.

As for anyone, maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of staying well for people with HIV. See Nutrition to find out more about this.

Exercise can play an important role in helping you lose weight if you need to. The anti-HIV drugs used most commonly these days in the UK rarely cause people to gain weight, so if you find you are gaining fat on your body, it’s likely to be because of an imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount of activity you do. Increasing the amount of exercise you take can make the difference. See Types of exercise to find out more about what levels of physical activity to aim for.

Weighing too little can weaken your immune system, cause bone problems and cause you to lack energy. Resistance, or weight-bearing, exercise can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and help once it is diagnosed by encouraging new bone to grow.

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce total body and trunk fat among HIV-positive men with body fat changes (lipodystrophy).

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this section.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.