In a study from Harvard University, scientists found that women who had a healthy lifestyle had about half the risk of long COVID compared with women without any healthy lifestyle factors.
In the current study, researchers aimed to find whether a healthy lifestyle (healthy body mass index, never smoking, high-quality diet, moderate alcohol intake, regular exercise, and adequate sleep) prior to COVID-19 infection could reduce the risk of long COVID symptoms.
They used data from 32 249 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort who reported preinfection lifestyle habits in 2015 and 2017.
Healthy lifestyle factors included healthy body mass index (BMI, 18.5-24.9), never smoking, at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, moderate alcohol intake (5 to 15 g/d), high diet quality (upper 40% of Alternate Healthy Eating Index–2010 score), and adequate sleep (7 to 9 h/d).
The team found 1981 women who reported a positive COVID-19 test from April 2020 to November 2021 (over 19 months of follow-up). Among these, 871 (44.0%) developed long COVID.
The researchers found adherence to a healthy lifestyle prior to infection was linked to a lower risk of long COVID. Compared with those who did not have any healthy lifestyle factors, those with 5 or 6 had half the risk of long COVID.
Compared with women without any healthy lifestyle factors, those with 5 to 6 had a 49% lower risk of long COVID.
In addition, a healthy BMI and adequate sleep were independently linked to a lower risk of PCC (BMI, 18.5-24.9 vs others, sleep, 7-9 h/d vs others).
The team says if these associations were causal, 36% of long COVID cases would have been prevented if all participants had 5 to 6 healthy lifestyle factors.
Results were comparable when long COVID was defined as symptoms of at least 2 months duration or having ongoing symptoms at the time of long COVID assessment.
Based on the findings, the team suggests that a pre-infection healthy lifestyle is linked to a much lower risk of long COVID.
Future research should examine whether lifestyle interventions may reduce the risk of developing long COVID or reduce symptoms among people with long COVID.
The study was conducted by Andrea Roberts et al and published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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