Healthy Lifestyle Factors and Risk of Long COVID

healthy lifestyle factors and the risk of long COVID

What is the link between healthy lifestyle factors and risk of Long COVID?

Secondary to COVID, Long COVID, or symptoms that persist after recovery from COVID, has become its own major health issue. I’ve talked to a few friends who recovered from COVID and say they have fatigue, difficulty breathing or “brain fog” and even a few who said it took a long time for their sense of  taste and smell to come back, particularly after the first variant. I’m one of the lucky ones who never got COVID (yet), so I don’t have a personal anecdote to share about Long COVID, but it is creating a big burden for the health system and each afflicted individual.

There’s a lot of research happening around Long COVID, it’s always in the news, and scientists and doctors are trying to find a way to prevent and treat it. Then there are folks who claim “Long COVID is a myth” or what someone says is Long COVID is actually a “side effect from the vaccine.” To that, let me say this: “long stuff” after recovery from infections has always been around. A person can have lingering effects or symptoms after mono, the flu, polio, strep throat…heck, I developed asthma after a strange pneumonia that hit me in my early twenties. The Epstein Barr virus has been linked to Multiple Sclerosis. Viral illnesses have been linked to certain cancers. I once did a Causes or Cures podcast with Dr. Hyman (a psychiatrist and director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health) on PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmun Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep) about kids developing psychiatric issues after recovering from Strep Throat. The point is that lingering effects after a viral or bacterial illness is nothing new. We are all just paying attention to Long COVID perhaps because of all the media attention COVID received as a new virus that took the world by storm.

In a recent episode of Causes or Cures, I chatted with Dr. Siwen Wang, a medical doctor and research fellow at the Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, about her research published in JAMA Internal Medicine on the link between healthy lifestyle factors and risk of Long COVID.  To be clear, these are pre-infection healthy lifestyle factors. She will talk about the 6 lifestyle factors they assessed and why, how they did the study and created a “healthy lifestyle score”, and how they defined “Long COVID” for the purposes of her study. Then she will discuss results, “take-home” points, and implications for a wider population.

I like studies like these, because I find them empowering. The six lifestyle factors they assessed are things that anyone on any budget, with a little discipline and commitment, can tweak for better health. In other words, you don’t need a huge financial investment to improve on these six healty lifestyle factors. You do, however, need the discipline and commitment. And, yes, maintaining discipline and commitment is hard, especially in the beginning. But it gets easier with time, a regular routine and damn it, your health is worth it.

You can listen to the podcast episode on healthy lifestyle factors and risk of Long COVID here. Please share it with anyone who is worried about Long COVID. I know the president ended the national emergency regarding COVID, but the virus is still around out there. Viruses don’t listen to presidents. :)

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