BOSTON — A healthy lifestyle could lower the risk of getting long COVID, according to Boston researchers who found that simple lifestyle changes like getting enough sleep could prevent long COVID symptoms.

Women who followed most aspects of a healthy lifestyle — healthy body weight, not smoking, regular exercise, adequate sleep, high quality diet, and moderate alcohol consumption — had about half the risk of long COVID compared to women without any healthy lifestyle factors, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“With ongoing waves of COVID-19, long COVID has created a serious public health burden,” said Andrea Roberts, senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health and senior author of the study.

“Our findings raise the possibility that adopting more healthy behaviors may reduce the risk of developing long COVID,” Roberts said.

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It’s estimated that 8 million to 23 million Americans suffer from long COVID, defined as having COVID symptoms four weeks or more after the initial infection. Symptoms can include fatigue, fever and a variety of respiratory, heart, neurological and digestive symptoms.


The researchers for the study analyzed data from more than 32,000 female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study II, which had data on their lifestyle from 2015 and 2017 along with their COVID infection history from April 2020 to November 2021.

During that time, more than 1,900 participants contracted COVID. Among these individuals, 44% developed long COVID. Compared to women without any healthy lifestyle factors, those with five or six factors had a 49% lower risk of long COVID.

Among the six lifestyle factors, maintaining a healthy body weight and getting adequate sleep — 7 to 9 hours daily — were the ones most strongly associated with a lower risk of long COVID.

The results also showed that even among women who developed long COVID, those with a healthier pre-infection lifestyle had a 30% lower risk of having symptoms that interfered with their daily life.

“In the past decades, scientists have accumulated evidence that healthy lifestyle is good for overall health,” said lead author Siwen Wang, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition.

“However, in the U.S. for example, 70% of the population do not have a healthy body weight and 30% do not sleep enough. Findings from this study suggest that simple lifestyle changes, such as having adequate sleep, may be beneficial for the prevention of long COVID.”