Healthy Lifestyle Linked to Lower Risk of Long COVID

Lisa O'Mary

February 08, 2023

People with healthy lifestyles may be less likely to have prolonged COVID-19 symptoms, otherwise known as long COVID, a new study suggests.

The study was published Monday in  JAMA Internal Medicine . The researchers defined a healthy lifestyle as:

  • A healthy body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9

  • Never smoking 

  • High-quality diet

  • Moderate alcohol intake of one drink per day or less

  • At least 150 minutes of weekly exercise

  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day

The study examined data for 1,981 women who reported a positive COVID-19 test from April 2020 to November 2021. The average age of respondents was 64.7 years old, 97% were white, and half worked in the health care field. The respondents were enrolled in the longstanding Nurses’ Health Study II, which tracks women’s health issues and heavily enrolls nurses due to their ability to respond to medical survey questions.

Women who reported five or all of the lifestyle factors had half the risk of experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for 4 weeks or more, compared to women with none of these healthy habits. A healthy body weight and getting enough sleep appeared to be the most protective.

"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," Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher Andrea Roberts, PhD, said in a news release.

That said, the authors noted that their study had many limitations and the results should be interpreted with caution due to those shortcomings, among them being that the respondents were mostly middle-aged white women. They also said that the lack of a definition for long COVID made the research difficult.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Eric Topol, MD, noted that many people with healthy lifestyles also have long COVID, calling into question the link suggested by the study authors.

"That doesn't align with my experience at all – that affected individuals were remarkably health conscious and fit," said Topol, who is executive vice president of Scripps Research and editor-in-chief of Medscape, WebMD's sister site for health care professionals.


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Following healthy lifestyle may reduce risk of long COVID."

JAMA Internal Medicine: "Adherence to Healthy Lifestyle Prior to Infection and Risk of Post–COVID-19 Condition."

Twitter: @EricTopol, Feb. 6, 2023.


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