News Release

Lifestyle factors may act as preventative measures against severe COVID-19

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Colorado at Boulder

Lifestyle choices—such as eating healthy, staying active as well as resting after exercise, and managing stress—may help prevent people from developing severe COVID-19 and mitigate post-infection conditions and symptoms, reports a new University of Colorado Boulder paper.

Published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, the paper details various biological mechanisms, resulting from modern living, that predispose humans to chronic, low-level inflammation and incline them toward even more damaging inflammation when fighting off the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

“Many of the problems that we’re seeing from COVID are being attributed to how our body ramps up an immune response that is way over the top compared to what is needed,” said Elizabeth Enichen, lead author and 2021 Honors graduate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

COVID can also shut down our antiviral defenses before we're able to develop a more robust and specific response, preventing us from regulating our own immune system, said Enichen.

The publication details how existing chronic inflammation combined with an out-of-balance gut microbiome (the collection of resident bacteria in one’s lower digestive system) predisposes the immune system to overreact. In humans, this overzealous inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 can lead to severe disease, organ damage and death.

Bats, on the other hand—who likely harbored the virus before it jumped to humans—are able to coexist with viruses like this one because of their lower propensity for inflammation and an at-the-ready antiviral defense, according to the paper.

The basic science of what individuals can do to protect themselves comes at a crucial time.  Although President Biden told news program 60 Minutes on Sept. 18 that “the pandemic is over,” about 400 people still die of COVID-19 every day, and more than 23,000 Americans remain hospitalized due to the virus. And the lingering or new symptoms of Long COVID, categorized as post-acute sequelae (PASC) of SARs-CoV-2, remain a concern for millions of those still recovering.

Barbara Demmig-Adams, co-author on the study, and professor of distinction and director of the EBIO Honors Program within the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, suspects that imbalances in our immune response and microbiome also play a large role in PASC, which can include brain fog, memory issues, shortness of breath, exhaustion and chronic pain.

The surest way to prevent PASC: Don’t get infected, she said. But those who do can mitigate lasting health impacts through basic lifestyle choices, according to Demmig-Adams.

That’s because much of our modern lifestyle—the food we eat, how sedentary we are, and how stressed out we are on a regular basis—throws our immune system and microbiome off-balance.

“Many of the things you can do to lower the risk of chronic disease also apply to infectious disease,” said Demmig-Adams. “If you make small tweaks in exercise, diet and stress, those can all act together to help reduce this uncontrolled inflammation that COVID is superimposed upon.”  

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.