What you need to know
As the pandemic continues, researchers are able to gather data about the impact of COVID-19 on people’s long-term health and fitness. And that data can come from unexpected sources — like a smartwatch.
In the first study of its kind, researchers used wearable fitness devices to track people’s activity months after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, providing unique insight into the recovery process.
What did the researchers do?
From March 2020 to January 2021, researchers from the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego asked thousands of people to share their health data from fitness trackers like Fitbits and Apple Watches. Participants were also asked to report symptoms of illness in the study’s app and share the results of any COVID-19 tests. The study focused on 875 people who wore their trackers for at least five months after reporting symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever, cough, and sore throat.
Researchers compared data gathered from 234 people who tested positive for COVID-19 against data from 641 people who were sick but tested negative. The scientists looked at how much each group slept, how active they were, and what their pulse while at rest (resting heart rate) was.
What did they learn?
On average, people in the study who were diagnosed with COVID-19 experienced a noticeable dip in their resting heart rate between 9 and 15 days after their symptoms developed. Later, their heart rates rose above normal resting rates and took nearly three months to return to normal. According to the data, people with COVID-19 also slept more than people who were sick from other causes and took fewer steps per day in the first month after the onset of their symptoms. Researchers did not collect data on symptoms after testing.
This study was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
Why is this research important?
Although most people recover quickly from an acute COVID-19 infection, some continue to experience symptoms for weeks and months after their diagnosis. And full recovery — a return to predisease fitness levels — may take longer for more people than originally thought. Researchers plan to continue gathering information in larger quantities to understand the longer-term physical and behavioral effects of COVID-19.
Where can I go to learn more?
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares information for general audiences on the post-COVID conditions.
NIH Plans Research on “Long COVID”
- RECOVER, an NIH initiative, seeks to understand, prevent, and treat the long-term symptoms of COVID-19.
- The CDC provides guidance on how to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 and when you can be around others after having or being exposed to COVID-19.
Radin, J. M., Quer, G., Ramos, E., Baca-Motes, K., Gadaleta, M., Topol, E. J., & Steinhubl, S. R. (2021). Assessment of prolonged physiological and behavioral changes associated with COVID-19 infection. JAMA Network Open, 4(7), e2115959. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2781687
Lopez-Leon, S., Wegman-Ostrosky, T., Perelman, C., Sepulveda, R., Rebolledo, P. A., Cuapio, A., & Villapol, S. (2021). More than 50 long-term effects of COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11, 16144. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-95565-8
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COVID-19 research information and resources by topic from NIH institutes and centers