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Exercise reduces long-term COVID symptoms in young women

  • Apr 2, 2024
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Exercise reduces long-term COVID symptoms in young women

In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers investigated the effects of physical activity (PA) on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) symptoms among young females.

The protective role of PA against several respiratory infections is well established. Regular PA augments immune function and reduces the risk of acute respiratory infections. Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle is linked to an increased risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and COVID-19 severity.

Further, one-third of SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals report long-term symptoms that persist for over four weeks post-infection. Common symptoms of this post-COVID-19 condition (PCC) include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, changes in taste/smell, cognitive dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and headache. Studies have reported inverse associations between (greater adherence to) a healthy lifestyle and PCC risk.

Several risk factors for severe COVID-19 have been identified, such as sex, advanced age, and comorbidities, which are also related to physical inactivity. PA levels generally differ between females and males; females in most countries are less physically active than males. While males have higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, females show an increased PCC prevalence.

Study: Higher level of physical activity reduces mental and neurological symptoms during and two years after COVID-19 infection in young women. Image Credit: lzf / Shutterstock

The study and findings

In the present study, researchers evaluated whether regular PA alleviates COVID-19 and PCC symptoms among young females. Data on SARS-CoV-2 infection and symptoms were collected using the World Health Organization (WHO) post-COVID case report form between July 20, 2022, and October 5, 2023.

Besides, functioning was measured on a five-point scale and was compared to a pre-COVID-19 scenario on a three-point scale. The international PA questionnaire short form was used to measure PA levels. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) examined group differences. Pearson’s correlation coefficients were computed.

Overall, the study included 802 females aged 18–34. Of these, 442 contracted SARS-CoV-2, and 370 had a laboratory-confirmed infection. Most cases were mild. Over 92% of participants were vaccinated; 373 individuals received three doses, and 336 received two. Further, 167 individuals were reinfected, mostly post-vaccination.

26.3% of participants reported persistent or intermittent symptoms. Approximately 43% of subjects reported low PA, 34.8% had moderate PA, and 22.3% had high PA. The team found a significant association between COVID-19 prevalence and PA categories. A higher infection rate was observed in the moderate PA group compared to other groups. COVID-19 severity was mild in most cases, irrespective of PA levels.

Nevertheless, two cases with severe illness had a low PA. The high PA group showed a higher rate of moderate disease than other groups. There was no statistically significant association between PA and reinfection or PCC. However, the rate of reinfection declined with increasing levels of PA. An average of 14 symptoms were reported during acute COVID-19.

Symptoms reduced with increasing PA levels. The high PA group had the lowest symptoms, whereas the low PA group had the highest. Most symptoms were general, neurological, and mental, regardless of PA levels, and symptoms of these categories were more frequent in subjects with moderate or low PA. The most common symptoms of acute COVID-19 were fatigue, anxiety, dysmenorrhea, dizziness, forgetfulness, loss of interest, and depressed mood.

Further, around 12 symptoms were reported, on average, in PCC. Likewise, symptoms are reduced in individuals with high PA. Similarly, the most common PCC symptoms included fatigue, forgetfulness, lightheadedness, anxiety, palpitations, loss of interest, and difficulties in concentrating. Forgetfulness, lightheadedness, and depression were more frequent in those with low or moderate PA.

Cardiovascular symptoms (chest pain, palpitations, and post-exertional malaise), dysmenorrhea, anxiety, and loss of interest were more frequent in individuals with moderate PA. The total functioning score ranged between 0 and 72.5 among individuals who contracted SARS-CoV-2, implying mild or no difficulties in functioning. Only five individuals had moderate difficulties and aggravated status in functioning.

Conclusions

Taken together, the study explored whether regular PA decreases symptoms during and after COVID-19 in young females. PCC was common, with about a quarter reporting persistent or intermittent mental and neurological symptoms two years post-infection. Symptoms declined with PA levels in acute COVID-19 and PCC. Besides, the reinfection rate decreased with higher levels of PA.

Journal reference:

  • Takács J, Deák D, Koller A. Higher level of physical activity reduces mental and neurological symptoms during and two years after COVID-19 infection in young women. Sci Rep, 2024, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-024-57646-2, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-024-57646-2

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