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Healthy Lifestyle Could Lower Risk for Long COVID, Study Says

Healthy Lifestyle Could Lower Risk for Long COVID
Healthy Lifestyle Could Lower Risk for Long COVID. Credit: Truyen Hinh Phap Luat / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The recent Household Pulse Survey has revealed the staggering impact of COVID-19 on Americans; 40% reported having contracted it, and a shocking 19% are still suffering from its long-term effects.

The Census Bureau and CDC collaborated to carry out this survey, which was further enhanced by NCHS’ addition of questions regarding post-COVID conditions such as “long COVID.”

But what exactly is “long COVID”? Having COVID-19 symptoms for at least 4 weeks after initial SARS-CoV-2 infection is considered a Post-COVID-19 (PCC) condition or most commonly known as “long COVID” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 or who were not hospitalized during the acute phase of the illness had a higher chance of long covid (50% to 70%). The illness can present itself in a variety of ways that make it difficult to go about everyday life. This includes respiratory, cardiovascular, metabolic, gastrointestinal, neurological, and psychological symptoms.

Long COVID and healthy lifestyle

Post–COVID-19 Condition (PCC) Symptoms
Post–COVID-19 Condition (PCC) Symptoms According to Number of Healthy Lifestyle Factors. Credit: JAMA Internal Medicine / Open Access (Public Domain)

A study conducted by the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that pre-infection healthy lifestyle factors can significantly reduce the risk of post-COVID-19 condition (PCC).

The study of 32,249 women found that factors such as a healthy BMI, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake, physical activity, a high-quality diet, and adequate sleep were associated with a lower risk of PCC.

Participants with 5 to 6 of these healthy lifestyle factors had a 49% lower risk of PCC compared to those with none. Additionally, the study found that BMI and sleep were independently associated with the risk of PCC.

“In the past decades, scientists have accumulated evidence that a healthy lifestyle is good for overall health. However, in the U.S., for example, 70% of the population does not have a healthy body weight, and 30% do not sleep enough. Findings from this study suggest that simple lifestyle changes, such as having an adequate sleep, may be beneficial for the prevention of long COVID,” said lead author Siwen Wang, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition.

If these associations were causal, 36% of PCC cases could have been prevented if all participants had followed 5 to 6 healthy lifestyle factors.

These findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of PCC. Further research is needed to investigate the impact of lifestyle interventions on PCC and other post-infection syndromes.

Age-Standardized Participant Characteristics by Number of Healthy Lifestyle Factors
Age-Standardized Participant Characteristics by Number of Healthy Lifestyle Factors. Credit: JAMA Internal Medicine / Open Access (Public Domain)

An unhealthy lifestyle means severe COVID-19 cases

A study of 387,109 adults in the United Kingdom found that a combination of unhealthy habits, such as smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption, were responsible for 51% of severe COVID-19 cases in the population.

The study also found that a healthy lifestyle score was associated with a reduced risk of severe COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 conditions (PCC). This protective effect was partly due to lower levels of low-grade inflammation, as indicated by C-reactive protein (CRP) levels measured 10 years prior to infection.

The study found a strong correlation between following a healthy lifestyle and reducing the risk of PCC, regardless of pre-existing conditions and the severity of acute phase disease.

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