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COVID-19 patients remain sedentary after hospital discharge



After hospitalization, COVID-19 patients 9 hours per day of sedentary time at 3-6 months after discharge, according to data from 37 individuals.

COVID-19 patients experience a wide range of clinical manifestations, and roughly half of those who were hospitalized for COVID-19 report persisting symptoms both physical and mental up to a year after discharge, Bram van Bakel, MD, of Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, said in a presentation at the presentation at the annual congress of the European Association of Preventive Cardiology.

However, data on physical activity patterns and the impact on recovery after postinfection hospital discharge are limited, he said. Dr. van Bakel and colleagues aimed to assess physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep duration in COVID-19 patients at 3-6 months after hospital discharge to explore the association with patient characteristics, disease severity and cardiac dysfunction.

“We hypothesized that COVID-19 survivors will demonstrate low volumes of physical activity and a high sedentary time, especially those with a more severe disease course,” such as longer hospital duration and admission to intensive care, cardiac dysfunction, and persistent symptoms at 3-6 months post discharge, he said.

Dr. van Bakel and colleagues enrolled 37 adult patients in a cross-sectional cohort study. They objectively assessed physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep duration for 24 hrs/day during 8 subsequent days in COVID-19 survivors at 3-6 months post hospitalization. The average age of the patients was 60 years, 78% were male, and the average assessment time was 125 days after hospital discharge.

The researchers compared activity patterns based on patient and disease characteristics, cardiac biomarker release during hospitalization, abnormal transthoracic echocardiogram regarding left and right ventricular function and volumes at 3-6 months of follow-up, and the persistence of symptoms after discharge.

Overall, patients spent a median of 4.2 hours per day in light-intensity physical activity, and 1 hour per day in moderate to vigorous physical activity. The overall median time spent sitting was 9.8 hours per day; this was accumulated in approximately 6 prolonged sitting periods of 30 minutes or more and 41.1 short sitting periods of less than 30 minutes.

The median sleep duration was 9.8 hours per day; sleep duration was significantly higher in women, compared with men (9.2 vs. 8.5 hours/day; P = .03), and in patients with persistent symptoms, compared with those without persistent symptoms (9.1 hrs/day vs. 8.3 hrs/day; P = .02). No other differences in activity or sitting patterns appeared among subgroups. Sedentary time of 10 hours or more per day overall puts individuals at increased risk for detrimental health effects, Dr. van Bakel said.

The study findings were limited by the small sample and cross-sectional design, he noted.

However, the results suggest that COVID-19 patients spent most of their time sedentary within the first 3-6 months after hospital discharge. The similar activity patterns across subgroups support a uniform approach to rehabilitation for these patients to target persisting symptoms and prevent long-term health consequences, said Dr. van Bakel. Further studies are warranted in a larger cohort with a prospective design and longitudinal follow-up.

The current study “highlights the need for ongoing rehabilitation in severe COVID-19 survivors after hospitalization to restore premorbid function and endurance,” Alba Miranda Azola, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said in an interview.

“The findings regarding inactivity are not surprising,” said Dr. Azola. “Immobility during hospitalization results in muscle atrophy and marked decreased endurance. The need for prolonged use of sedation and paralytics during intensive care stays of severe COVID-19 patients is associated with critical illness myopathy. Also, many patients continue to experience hypoxia and dyspnea on exertion for several months after leaving the hospital. The functional impairments and limited activity tolerance often preclude patients from engaging on outpatient rehabilitation programs.

“I do think it surprising that the level of inactivity observed was independent of disease severity and patient factors, but it definitely speaks to the importance of establishing post hospitalization follow-up care that focuses on restoring function and mobility,” Dr. Azola noted.

The study findings may have long-term clinical implications, as COVID-19 survivors who experience functional decline that limits activity and who continue to lead a sedentary lifestyle may be at increased risk for health issues such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Azola said.

Rigorous research is needed to study the functional and health impact of rehabilitation interventions during and after hospitalization, she emphasized. “Additionally, studies are needed on innovative rehabilitation interventions that improve accessibility to services to patients.”

The study received no outside funding. The researchers and Dr. Azola had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Azola had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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