A healthy lifestyle may reduce risk of long COVID

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In a study from Harvard University, scientists found women who followed most aspects of a healthy lifestyle, including healthy body weight, not smoking, regular exercise, adequate sleep, high-quality diet, and moderate alcohol consumption, had about half the risk of long COVID compared with women without any healthy lifestyle factors.

With ongoing waves of COVID-19, long COVID has created a serious public health burden. Our findings raise the possibility that adopting more healthy behaviors may reduce the risk of developing long COVID.

It’s estimated that 8-23 million Americans suffer from long COVID, which is defined as having COVID-19 symptoms four weeks or more after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, and a variety of respiratory, heart, neurological, and digestive symptoms.

In the study, the team analyzed data from more than 32,000 female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study II, who reported on their lifestyles in 2015 and 2017 and reported a history of COVID-19 infection from April 2020 to November 2021.

During that time, more than 1,900 participants contracted COVID-19. Among these, 44% developed long COVID.

The team found that compared to women without any healthy lifestyle factors, those with five or six had a 49% lower risk of long COVID.

Among the six lifestyle factors, maintaining a healthy body weight and getting adequate sleep (seven to nine hours daily) were the ones most strongly linked to a lower risk of long COVID.

The results also showed that, even among women who developed long COVID, those with a healthier pre-infection lifestyle had 30% lower risk of having symptoms that interfered with their daily life.

The team noted that one possible explanation for the associations they observed is that, based on prior research, an unhealthy lifestyle is linked to increased risk of chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation, which have been linked with increased risk of long COVID.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about six common COVID myths busted, and COVID-19 may harm the right side of your heart.

For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about new evidence on rare blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination, and results showing zinc could help reduce COVID-19 infection risk.

The study was conducted by Andrea Roberts et al and published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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