A new study suggests that people who contract COVID-19 are at risk of experiencing long-term health consequences, but a healthy lifestyle may provide protection against “long COVID.” The study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health involved over 32,000 female nurses as participants and found that women who maintained six healthy habits – healthy weight, non-smoking, regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption – reduced their risk of long COVID by 50% compared to women who did not follow these habits.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Siwen Wang, stated that if everyone in the study followed these healthy habits, 36% of long COVID cases could have been avoided. She also noted that people with a healthier pre-infection lifestyle had a 30% lower risk of having symptoms that interfere with their daily life.
The study also showed that the healthy lifestyle habits that were most strongly linked with a lower long COVID risk were healthy weight and adequate sleep (seven to nine hours daily). However, the study only suggests an association between a healthy lifestyle and a lower risk of long COVID, more studies are needed to confirm the relationship. As many as 23 million Americans suffer from long COVID, which can cause symptoms that persist for a month or more after the initial infection. These symptoms can include fatigue, fever, and respiratory, heart, neurological, and digestive problems.
The findings of the study were published in JAMA Internal Medicine and suggest that simple lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep may have a significant impact on the prevention of long COVID. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, non-smoking, and limited alcohol consumption are all associated with less likelihood of long COVID and milder symptoms.
According to Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, a healthy lifestyle leads to less inflammation in the body, which could explain why it is associated with a lower risk of persistent post-COVID symptoms.