Self-care won’t cure HIV, but it may help you live a better life.
The most important part of treatment for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is medication. Antiretroviral therapy helps prevent HIV from replicating in the blood, which allows you to live a long and normal life. While a healthy lifestyle can’t “cure” or treat your HIV, good self-care can help support your treatment.
Think of it this way: HIV is an infection that affects the immune system. Without treatment, HIV may wipe out T cells in your body that help protect you from infections. Antiretroviral therapy helps prevent that from happening, but healthy habits can also help keep your body and immune system strong.
The Importance of Self-Care During HIV Treatment
If you don’t take good care of yourself, you may worsen the effects of HIV on your body and immune system. For example, eating a diet that’s lacking in fruits and vegetables or not getting enough sleep at night are both things that can make you more vulnerable to colds and other infections. Combined with a disease that affects your immune system, these harmful habits may worsen your vulnerability.
Plus, HIV may slightly increase your risk of certain health problems, like cardiovascular disease. Living an overall healthy lifestyle can help manage your risk and prevent heart attacks. After all, a healthy diet and exercise are two key factors in protecting your heart health.
Healthy Habits to Support Treatment
Some self-care habits that may help support HIV treatment and your overall health include:
- Eating regular, nutritious, and filling meals
- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking, or not starting
- Managing stress
- Seeking mental health support if needed
- Finding a support system
If you want to make sure your lifestyle is supporting your HIV treatment, overall health, and quality of life, the best person to talk to is your doctor. They can help you find the most accurate information and give you guidance on practicing good self-care.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.