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Can breaking up sitting time mitigate the symptoms of long Covid?

University of Gloucestershire has launched a new study with the NHS to explore whether low levels of physical activity may benefit the near 2 million people in the UK who are suffering from long Covid.

The World Health Organisation defines long Covid as symptoms that start within three months of having Covid-19, last for at least two months, and cannot be explained by another health condition. 

Patients with long Covid can experience a wide variety of symptoms, including dizziness, headaches, breathing issues, and muscle and joint pain, that can lead to an increase in sedentary behaviour, such as prolonged uninterrupted sitting.

Data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that 1.9 million people in the UK had reported suffering symptoms of long Covid.

Previous research at the University has shown that sitting for two hours worsens cardiovascular health and cognitive function in healthy populations, but interrupting this sitting period with low levels of physical activity, such as regular ‘leg fidgeting’, can mitigate these changes.

Building on this research, the University is collaborating with the NHS in Gloucestershire and Hampshire, and the University of Winchester to investigate the effects of uninterrupted sitting on cardiovascular health and cognitive function in people with long Covid.

Volunteers diagnosed with long Covid will be asked to make simple changes to their behaviour to help the researchers compile data to assess whether interrupting sitting periods with low levels of physical activity may mitigate the effects of the condition.

Dr Simon Fryer, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University, said: “Most people with Covid-19 start to feel better within two weeks of noticing symptoms, but for millions of others, the debilitating effects of the virus can last for much longer, or new symptoms can develop.

“Our previous research found that many health issues associated with growing UK adult inactivity levels in the UK, such as high blood pressure and cognitive function, can be moderated by regular activity breaks to sitting, this can be in the form of short walking breaks or even ‘leg fidgeting’ (seated calf-muscle raises).

“Our new collaborative multi-centre study with the University of Winchester, and the NHS in Hampshire and Gloucestershire, hopes to improve the lives of patients with long Covid by determining whether light bouts of movement can improve various health issues.

“We believe the research could be potentially life-changing for millions of long Covid sufferers.”

Professor James Faulkner, a Professor in Exercise Physiology at the University of Winchester, said: “We have designed this study in collaboration with people who have been living with long Covid and with healthcare professionals who are regularly working with this group of people to help support them in the understanding of their condition.”

Dr Michelle Phillips, Post Covid Clinic, Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are delighted that our patients have opportunities to be involved in such interesting and relevant research.”

Volunteers interested in taking part in the research, who will receive feedback on their health outcomes, should email Dr Fryer at

Main image: Dr Simon Fryer, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University