Once you’ve started antiretroviral therapy for HIV, you may be interested in learning more about what else you can do to stay healthy. Eating a nutritious diet, getting enough exercise, and practicing self-care can greatly improve your sense of well-being. Use this guide as a starting point for maintaining a healthy body and mind.
It’s common for people living with HIV to experience weight loss. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is an important part of caring for the immune system and maintaining good strength.
Keep in mind that there is no specific diet for HIV, but your doctor can provide you with information on good nutrition. Your doctor may also suggest seeing a dietitian to create a healthy eating plan tailored to your body’s needs.
In general, most people benefit from a diet that includes:
- lots of fruit and vegetables
- lots of starchy carbs, like brown rice and whole grains
- some protein, like fish, eggs, or lean meat
- some dairy, like low-fat milk or cheese
- healthy fats, like those found in nuts, avocados, or extra virgin olive oil
When cooking, use safe handling practices to reduce the risk of food-borne infections. Try to keep the kitchen as clean as possible. Wash raw foods, and be mindful about proper food preparation and storage. Always cook meats to at least the minimum safe temperature.
It’s also important to drink plenty of liquids and stay hydrated. Fluids help the body process the medications that are part of a typical HIV treatment regimen. If tap water quality is a concern, consider switching to bottled water.
If you’re planning to start taking any new vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements, make sure to check with your doctor first. Certain supplements can interact with HIV medications and cause side effects.
Another key element to feeling your best after beginning antiretroviral therapy is having a fitness routine. In addition to weight loss, people living with HIV can experience muscle loss. Regular exercise is a great way to help prevent this.
There are three main types of exercise:
- resistance training
- flexibility training
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should try to get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobics every week. This can include things like taking a brisk walk, going for a bike ride on flat terrain, or taking a leisurely swim.
It’s also possible to meet the CDC’s aerobics requirement in half the time if you opt for vigorous-intensity aerobics, which require more energy. Some examples of vigorous-intensity aerobics include jogging, playing soccer, or going for an uphill hike. If you’re planning to incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobics into a fitness routine, consult your doctor before attempting anything strenuous.
The CDC also recommends participating in resistance training at least twice a week, on non-consecutive days. Ideally your resistance training sessions should incorporate all of your major muscle groups, including your:
As with vigorous-intensity aerobics, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying any resistance training that you haven’t done before.
When it comes to flexibility training, there are no concrete guidelines for how often you should engage in it. But you may notice that flexibility exercises like stretching, yoga, and Pilates help to relieve stress while also improving your physical health.
In addition to the physical benefits of a regular exercise routine, keeping fit can also benefit your social life. Participating in activities like team sports or group workouts can help you to get out of the house and meet new people.
Staying physically healthy is one aspect of managing life with HIV. Maintaining your mental and emotional health is just as important. People who are newly diagnosed with HIV are at higher risk for some mental health conditions, such as depression.
If you have concerns about depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor about counseling. Talking with someone impartial can be helpful when it comes to processing difficult emotions and putting things into perspective.
Support groups are another useful outlet for discussing HIV. Attending a support group can also lead to making new friendships with other people who understand what it’s like to live with HIV.
It’s important to remember that an HIV diagnosis doesn’t mean avoiding relationships with people who are HIV-negative. It’s now possible to have a healthy sexual relationship with very little risk of transmitting HIV, thanks to advances in HIV treatment. Talk to your doctor about the best methods for protecting yourself and your partner.
Self-care is an important aspect of staying healthy and feeling strong with HIV. Remember that your HIV status doesn’t affect your ability to pursue your dreams. With a proper treatment regimen and healthy lifestyle habits, you can live a long, productive life as you work toward achieving your long-term goals.