April 6, 2023

COVID-19’s lingering impact on health

A decline in cardiovascular fitness — measured by activity trackers in the All of Us research program — persisted among some groups even after COVID-related restrictions were relaxed, exacerbating health disparities.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have identified another fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic — a significant decline in cardiovascular fitness that persisted among some groups even after social distancing recommendations were relaxed. 

Their study, published in JAMA Network Open, analyzed four years of activity and health data from more than 5,000 participants in the federal All of Us precision medicine research initiative who wore Fitbit activity trackers at least 10 days each month. 

Participants who reported lower socioeconomic and mental health status (including depression, psychological and post-traumatic stress) were at the highest risk of reduced activity during the study, which ran from January 2018 through December 2021.  

The significant decline in daily step counts persisted even after most COVID-related restrictions were relaxed, suggesting the pandemic had an impact on long-term behavioral choices and potentially on long-term disease risk. 

These findings are yet another example of how COVID-19 exacerbated health disparities related to socioeconomic status and mental health, the researchers concluded.

Evan Brittain, MD, MSCI, was the paper’s corresponding author. Co-authors were Stacy Desine, MSc, Hiral Master, PT, PhD, MPH, Jeffrey Annis, PhD, Andrew Hughes, MD, Dan Roden, MD, and Paul Harris, PhD.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health Office of the Director, and in part through NIH grants HL146588 and HL158941.