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HSPH Study Reveals Healthy Lifestyle May Reduce Risk of Long Covid

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Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health published a study on Monday which found that women who followed most aspects of a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and adequate sleep, had a reduced risk of contracting long Covid-19.

Long Covid-19, which affects an estimated eight to 23 million Americans, is defined by persistent symptoms from the virus four weeks or more after initial infection. These symptoms can include fatigue and fever, as well as an array of respiratory, heart, neurological, and digestive symptoms.

The research findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, were announced in an HSPH press release Monday morning.

“Our findings raise the possibility that adopting more healthy behaviors may reduce the risk of developing long Covid-19,” Andrea L. Roberts ’88, a senior author of the study, said in the release.

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The study examined data collected from over 32,000 female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study II — a project founded to investigate the long-term consequences of oral contraceptives, diet, and lifestyle risk factors in women between 25 and 42 years old. The researchers analyzed lifestyle data collected through the study in 2015 and 2017, as well as data on reported history of Covid-19 infection from April 2020 to November 2021.

Healthy lifestyle was defined by six factors: healthy body weight, not smoking, regular exercise, adequate sleep, high-quality diet, and moderate alcohol consumption. The two factors researchers found were most strongly correlated with a reduced risk of long Covid-19 were maintaining a healthy body weight and sleeping seven to nine hours per night.

Among women who developed long Covid-19, a healthier pre-infection lifestyle was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of having symptoms that interfered with their daily life. Additionally, women with five or six healthy lifestyle factors had a 49 percent lower risk of contracting long Covid-19 compared to women with no healthy lifestyle factors, according to the study.

The study complements prior research findings that an unhealthy lifestyle can lead to an increased risk of chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation — both of which have been associated with an increased risk of long Covid-19.

“In the U.S. for example, 70% of the population do not have a healthy body weight and 30% do not sleep enough.” Siwen Wang, a lead author on the study, said in the press release. “Findings from this study suggest that simple lifestyle changes, such as having adequate sleep, may be beneficial for the prevention of long Covid-19.”

—Staff writer Ammy M. Yuan can be reached at ammy.yuan@thecrimson.com.

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