Establishing healthy habits can be an important part of the treatment plan that you and your healthcare provider create. In addition to keeping your healthcare provider appointments and taking your antiretroviral therapy as prescribed, a good balance of the right nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle choices can affect overall health.1 The information provided here is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. Your diet and exercise needs might be different. Remember, always talk to your healthcare provider before changing your diet or starting an exercise program.


HIV and the medicines that treat it can change the way your body uses nutrients and other substances. Some of these metabolic changes can affect the way you look and feel. These changes can happen slowly and over time, so it’s important to pay attention to your diet and eat properly every day.2

Good nutrition has many important benefits, including:3

  • Supporting the immune system to help fight disease and infection
  • Helping the body process medicines
  • Helping to manage symptoms and conditions associated with HIV

The U.S. government offers the following nutrition advice:4

  • Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts in your diet
  • Check labels for foods that are:
    • Rich in potassium, fiber, Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron
    • Low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars
  • Use the % Daily Value (DV) column when choosing food. Less than 5% DV is considered low; more than 29% is considered high

A healthy meal plan should include:



ProteinLean meats, poultry and fish, baked, broiled or grilled; beans; peas; nuts

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried rather than fruit juice

2 cups per day = 2 large bananas, 2 large oranges, 1 cup dried apricots or peaches
Calcium-rich foods

3 cups low-fat or fat-free milk or an equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese

1½ ounces of cheese = 1 cup of milk

Dark green vegetables: broccoli, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables

Orange vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash

Beans and peas: pinto, kidney, black, garbanzo, split peas, and lentils

Half your grains should be whole grains

At least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta every day

1 ounce = about 1 slice of bread, ¾ cup of breakfast cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta


Developing a nutrition plan:

Good planning and preparation can help you accomplish tasks and meet goals. The same is true for healthy eating. When you plan meals a few days in advance—and follow a grocery list—you will discover a number of health and cost benefits.

Preparing a shopping list ahead of time can help you eat healthy and save you time. It can also help you:

  • Ensure you have enough food and snacks on hand when needed
  • Be less tempted to impulsively buy unhealthy items
  • Be more likely to stay within your budget
  • Be less likely to forget items and return to the store
  • Shop less frequently

The chart below explains the essential nutrients for good health, their functions, and the food sources they come from:5

  • Builds and repairs muscles and organ tissues
  • Fights infection
  • Provides energy
  • Helps the immune system
Animal sources:

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy

Vegetable sources:

Legumes, grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, tofu, and soy

  • The main source of energy for metabolism and muscles
  • Helps build and maintain muscles
Starches/complex carbohydrates:

Grain, rice, pasta, bread, cereal, legumes, and vegetables

Sugars/simple carbohydrates:

Fruit, some dairy products, and processed foods

NOTE: Table sugar, honey, syrup, and jelly add calories with little or no nutritional value

  • Builds body fat and provides extra energy for your body to burn
  • Builds, strengthens, and repairs muscles
  • Leads to weight gain if eaten in excess

Meat, whole-milk dairy products, nuts, peanuts, seeds, oils, salad dressing, and processed food such as cakes and candies

NOTE: Saturated fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

Source: Living Well with HIV & AIDS (2005)

Important: Dietary needs may vary based on age, weight, and other health-related conditions. Always speak with your healthcare provider about any medicines you’re taking, both prescription and over-the-counter (including supplements and herbs) before starting a new exercise or nutrition program.


Combined with a proper diet and good lifestyle choices, daily exercise is important for staying healthy. Routine activities may improve the heart and circulation, strengthen muscles and bones, reduce body fat, and help maintain a healthy weight. Exercising routinely can also help prevent complications, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol.6

It’s always important to use caution before beginning any exercise. Unsafe duration or intensity of exercise may result in injury or even lead to serious health consequences. Always consult a healthcare professional first before starting any exercise program.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises the following general guidelines for exercising:6

  • Talk to a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program
  • Learn proper exercise techniques
  • As with any exercise program, always start slowly
  • Stay hydrated: drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise
  • Rest if you are tired or feel pain

There are basically 3 main types of exercise that are part of a good fitness program: aerobic, strength, and flexibility.

Some types of exercises you may want to consider are:

Aerobic exercises:

Exercising moderately for more than 30 minutes a day can help reduce the risk of heart complications, lower “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and improve “good” cholesterol levels. Some activities to consider include:7

  • Walking or jogging
  • Bicycling
  • Dancing
  • Swimming

Strength/resistance exercises:

People should choose strength exercises that are comfortable and provide a pain-free workout. Strength exercises can improve your metabolism and body composition. These exercises include:7

  • Free weight training
  • Resistance training
  • Isotonic machines

Flexibility exercises:

At the end of each workout, flexibility exercises for trunk, hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows are recommended. The goal of flexibility is to increase and maintain your range of motion (ROM).8 These exercises can increase your ROM over time. They may include:

  • Shoulder movements
  • Leg rotations
  • Hip and knee bends

Exercise benefits both the mind and the body. Activities like stretching, weightlifting, and resistance training are generally recommended 3 or 4 times a week.7

In addition to the exercises mentioned above, yoga and meditation can be very beneficial. They not only help with physical fitness, but also have been shown to have a positive effect on spiritual and mental well-being.9

Talk to your healthcare provider before you start any exercise program. It’s also important to track your changes over time.

Helpful resources: