Exercise may alleviate long COVID-induced diabetes, depression

BATON ROUGE, La. — So much regarding COVID-19 remains a mystery, especially how common “long COVID” symptoms have become among patients after their recovery. Many people complain of lingering health issues, both mental and physical, months after their COVID-19 infection ends. Now, at least, new research may have uncovered a valid way to treat and prevent certain long COVID symptoms.

Scientists from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center report exercising may stop the “vicious cycle of inflammation” linked to the development of both diabetes and depression in the months after recovering from a bout with 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,” says Candida Rebello, Ph.D., a research scientist at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in a media 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.”

The true extent of long COVID cases is hard to pin down. It is likely that many people are living with long COVID symptoms and don’t even realize it or attribute their health issues to another cause. Today, estimates state anywhere from 15 percent to 80 percent of individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2 go on to develop long COVID symptoms. With those statistics in mind, study authors say it isn’t a stretch at all to predict as many as one million local Louisiana residents suffer from long COVID.

Long COVID leads to ‘a constellation of debilitating symptoms’

Typical long COVID cases cause muscle pain, fatigue, and brain fog lasting for months post COVID infection. According to the CDC, long COVID is “a constellation of debilitating symptoms.”

“For example, a person may not get very sick from COVID-19, but six months later, long after the cough or fever is gone, they develop diabetes,” Dr. Rebello explains.

Thankfully, this latest work is finally offering up a legitimate way to combat this mysterious and worrying condition. Exercise! Even better, researchers say you don’t even have to work out all that hard. Just keep moving on a daily basis.

“You don’t have to run a mile or even walk a mile at a brisk pace,” Dr. Rebello says. “Walking slowly is also exercising.  Ideally, you would do a 30-minute session of exercise. 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.”

“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,” concludes study co-author & Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, Ph.D.

The study is published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.


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