Well-Being Mental Health

Exercise could treat symptoms of long-COVID, researchers say

Two cartoon runners jogging marathon together. Istock

Story at a glance

  • A new study suggests a link between exercise and a reduced risk of developing depression and type 2 diabetes caused by inflammation-inducing bouts with long-COVID.
  • Previous research has indicated that inactive persons are more likely to experience severe outcomes than are normally associated with chronic diseases.
  • “If you can only walk 15 minutes once a day, do that. The important thing is to try. It doesn’t matter where you begin. You can gradually build up to the recommended level of exercise,” Rebello said.

A new study suggests a link between exercise and a reduced risk of developing depression and type 2 diabetes caused by inflammation-inducing bouts with long COVID-19.  

“We know that Long COVID causes depression, and we know that it can increase blood glucose levels to the point where people develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition common among people with type 1 diabetes,” Candida Rebello, a research scientist at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, said in a news release.  

“Exercise can help. Exercise takes care of the inflammation that leads to elevated blood glucose and the development and progression of diabetes and clinical depression,” Rebello added.  

Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest between 15 percent and 80 percent of people who initially contract the virus suffer from long-term symptoms, and previous research has indicated that inactive persons are more likely to experience severe outcomes than are normally associated with chronic diseases.  

Researchers also cited a separate study which found in an analysis of 62,354 patients that 5.8 percent developed a new psychiatric condition, such as anxiety and mood disorders, within 90 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

The new report “Exercise as a Moderator of Persistent Neuroendocrine Symptoms of COVID-19,” was published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 

“We know that physical activity is a key component to a healthy life. This research shows that exercise can be used to break the chain reaction of inflammation that leads to high blood sugar levels, and then to the development or progression of type 2 diabetes,” Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, who is also a co-author of the paper, added.


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But Rebello said a person doesn’t have to undergo strenuous workout to receive the benefits, noting one’s goal should be just to try and get some steps in throughout the day.  

“Walking slowly is also exercising.  Ideally, you would do a 30-minute session of exercise,” Rebello continued. “But if you can only do 15 minutes at a time, try to do two 15-minute sessions.” 

“If you can only walk 15 minutes once a day, do that. The important thing is to try. It doesn’t matter where you begin.  You can gradually build up to the recommended level of exercise,” Rebello concluded.  


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