New study warns: Exercise poses risks for some long COVID-19 sufferers

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Long COVID-19 and exercise: Research reveals potential tissue damage.

NEW YORK, Jan 10: New research reveals that while exercise is generally beneficial for health, it can pose risks for some individuals grappling with long COVID-19. Scientists in the Netherlands have identified potential severe tissue damage in long Covid sufferers experiencing debilitating crashes, known as post-exertional malaise, after intense physical activity.

Conducting a study at VU University Amsterdam, researchers subjected 25 long Covid patients and 21 healthy controls to 8-12 minutes of high-intensity cycling. Blood and muscle biopsy samples were collected before and after the exercise to uncover biological changes contributing to persistent symptoms in long Covid patients.

The study, published in Nature Communications, found that those with long COVID-19 exhibited significantly lower exercise capacity compared to healthy controls. This was linked to a higher proportion of fatigue-prone white muscle fibers and a decrease in slow-twitch red muscle fibers. Post-exertional malaise was triggered in all long COVID-19 patients, lasting up to three weeks for some.

Rob Wust, an assistant professor in muscle physiology and co-leader of the study, emphasized that participants, including former athletes, had to cease full-time work due to long COVID-19.

Analysis of post-exercise tissue from the upper leg muscles revealed signs of severe tissue damage in long COVID-19 patients, including dying muscle fibers, inflammation, and metabolic disturbances. Amyloid-containing deposits were also found in their muscles, a phenomenon observed in the blood vessels of long COVID-19 sufferers in other studies.

While the research doesn’t establish a cause for long COVID-19, it provides a biological basis for symptoms, disproving the notion that they are solely psychological or due to deconditioning. Ongoing research aims to delve into the damaging process and explore potential treatments and preventive measures.

In the meantime, support groups for long COVID-19 patients recommend a cautious “stop, rest, pace” approach to preventing severe crashes triggered by specific levels of physical, mental, or emotional activity. Wust emphasized the importance of patients knowing their exercise threshold and staying below it to manage their condition.

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