The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that an estimated 140 million Americans have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus based on data collected from blood tests taken through January 2022. Many of these Americans are still feeling the after-effects of the virus known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC), or “long COVID.” The cases of PASC are becoming so common that lawmakers introduced a bill to fund research into the long-term effects of the disease and expand treatment resources for people experiencing them.
Similarly, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute (BSWRI) has activated initiatives aimed at studying and helping to address some of these symptoms.
Early research on exercise and COVID-19
Early on in the pandemic as data reinforced the benefit of masking as an infection prevention method, BSWRI’s team at the Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy and Research Center at the Star in Frisco developed a study that examined the effects of exercising while masked.
The findings from this randomized controlled trial were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and showed that participants who wore cloth masks during exercise experienced a reduction in performance as intensity levels increased.
The investigator-initiated study was entirely developed by researchers within BSWRI and marked the first time that washable cloth masks had been used to determine metabolic performance during exercise.
Studying the impact of exercise on PASC
The group is now adding new lines of research focused on the post-recovery phase. Most recently, they launched a new initiative aimed at assessing the impact of exercise training on adults with persistent long COVID symptoms.
The randomized trial includes a wait-list control to examine the efficacy of a 26-week hybrid (in-person and home-based) exercise training program on identified functional, cognitive, and emotional health outcomes compared to a no treatment control condition in adults with PASC.
Participants are asked to complete a robust functional, cognitive, and emotional well-being assessment before, during, and after completion of the study period based upon commonly reported symptoms of PASC.
- Functional testing includes cardiopulmonary exercise testing and a functional movement screen, and assessment of breathlessness.
- Cognitive testingassesses motor speed, reaction time, processing speed, inhibition, dexterity, dual processing, and working memory.
- Emotional well-being includes a series of questionnaires regarding symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep impairment.
Participants receive a wearable device which records activity, heart rate, SpO2, skin temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate variability throughout the study.
Informing future direction through data
The research team studied a number of existing papers and publications to help inform their study design, including a paper titled, “Prevalence of Select New Symptoms and Conditions Among Persons Aged Younger Than 20 Years and 20 Years or Older at 31 to 150 Days After Testing Positive or Negative for SARS-CoV-2” published by JAMA Network Open in 2021.
Consistently they found that while exercise training has been shown to improve health outcomes in a multitude of conditions (cardiorespiratory disease, metabolic disease, anxiety, depression, among others), little was known or formally reported about the impact of exercise training on conditions in individuals with PASC. Through this randomized trial, the team aims to establish a data-driven assessment around whether or not exercise training programs can benefit individuals with PASC.
Adults ages 18 to 65 may volunteer for the study. Individuals with a lab-confirmed or self-reported positive COVID-19 test and one or more symptoms of PASC, including but not limited to, fatigue, dyspnea, cognitive dysfunction, sleep impairments, or emotional problems which began after diagnosis of COVID-19, may qualify.