MAKING simple lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, could help prevent individuals from developing long COVID, according to a new American study.

COVID-19 is a disease that usually affects sufferers for between two and three weeks. However, some patients may still have symptoms four weeks -- and more -- after infection. This is referred to as long COVID. According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of having prolonged symptoms from the virus.

The study, published in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, analyzed the health data of more than 32,000 US nurses between April 2020 and November 2021. During that 19-month period, 1,981 of them contracted COVID. Of those, 44% said they developed a long form of the disease.

The researchers found that among the nurses who'd been infected, those with a healthy lifestyle were less likely to develop a long form of COVID. To determine this, they identified six factors that are factors in a healthy lifestyle: a high-quality diet, a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9, being a nonsmoker, getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night, doing at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise, and consuming alcohol in moderation (between 5 and 15 grams per day).

Women who adopted at least five of these six criteria had a 49% lower risk of developing long Covid, compared with those who didn't adhere to any of these guidelines. The researchers added that if all women had adopted five to six criteria, 36% of the cases of long COVID could have been avoided. Moreover, of the six factors, weight and sleep were the ones most strongly associated with a lower risk of the long form of the disease.

The results also showed that, even among women who did develop long COVID, those who had a healthier lifestyle before infection were 30% less likely to have symptoms that interfered with their daily lives.

"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," stated Andrea Roberts, senior author of the study, in a press release.

"The authors noted that one possible explanation for the associations they observed is that, based on prior research, an unhealthy lifestyle is associated with increased risk of chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation, which have been linked with increased risk of long COVID," the release outlined.