Six lifestyle changes could cut the chance of long COVID by 49%

Healthy body weight and adequate sleep top the list, says data from Nurses’ Health Study.

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Post–COVID-19 condition (PCC), known as long COVID, is defined as having COVID-19 symptoms for at least four weeks after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection. This condition is estimated to affect 20% to 40% of individuals with COVID-19

A new study suggests that adopting more healthy behaviors may reduce the risk of developing long COVID. According to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 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. 

More than 32,000 female nurses who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II provided information on their lifestyle in 2015 and 2017 and their history of SARS-CoV-2 infection between April 2020 and November 2021. 

More than 1,900 participants developed COVID-19 during that time. 44 % of them went on to develop long COVID. Women with five or six healthy lifestyle characteristics had a 49 percent decreased risk of long COVID compared to those with none. The two lifestyle factors most strongly linked to a lower risk of long COVID were maintaining a healthy body weight (seven to nine hours per day) and getting enough sleep. A healthy lifestyle before infection was also associated with a 30% decreased likelihood of experiencing symptoms that interfered with daily life, even in women who developed long COVID. 

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

Lead author Siwen Wang, a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition, said“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 percent of the population does not have a healthy body weight, and 30 percent do not sleep enough. Findings from this study suggest that simple lifestyle changes, such as having an adequate sleep, may be beneficial for preventing long COVID.” 

Journal Reference:

  1. Siwen Wang, Yanping Li, et al. Adherence to Healthy Lifestyle Prior to Infection and Risk of Post–COVID-19 Condition. JAMA Internal Medicine. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.6555

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