Exercise capacity following SARS-CoV-2 infection is related to changes in cardiovascular and lung function in military personnel.

Chamley RR; Radcliffe Department of Medicine, Oxford, UK; Academic Department of Military Rehabilitation, Loughborough, UK
Holland JL; Collins J; Pierce K; Watson WD; Green PG; O’Brien D; O’Sullivan O; Barker-Davies R; Ladlow P; Neubauer S; Bennett A; Nicol ED; Holdsworth DA; Rider OJ;

International journal of cardiology [Int J Cardiol] 2023 Nov 17, pp. 131594.
Date of Electronic Publication: 2023 Nov 17.

Background: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, post-COVID syndrome (persistent symptoms/complications lasting >12 weeks) continues to pose medical and economic challenges. In military personnel, where optimal fitness is crucial, prolonged limitations affecting their ability to perform duties has occupational and psychological implications, impacting deployability and retention. Research investigating post-COVID syndrome exercise capacity and cardiopulmonary effects in military personnel is limited.
Methods: UK military personnel were recruited from the Defence Medical Services COVID-19 Recovery Service. Participants were separated into healthy controls without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (group one), and participants with prolonged symptoms (>12 weeks) after mild-moderate (community-treated) and severe (hospitalised) COVID-19 illness (group 2 and 3, respectively). Participants underwent cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) and spectroscopy, echocardiography, pulmonary function testing and cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET).
Results: 113 participants were recruited. When compared in ordered groups (one to three), CPET showed stepwise decreases in peak work, work at VT1 and VO 2 max (all p < 0.01). There were stepwise decreases in FVC (p = 0.002), FEV 1 (p = 0.005), TLC (p = 0.002), V A (p < 0.001), and DLCO (p < 0.002), and a stepwise increase in A-a gradient (p < 0.001). CMR showed stepwise decreases in LV/RV volumes, stroke volumes and LV mass (LVEDVi/RVEDVi p < 0.001; LVSV p = 0.003; RVSV p = 0.001; LV mass index p = 0.049).
Conclusion: In an active military population, post-COVID syndrome is linked to subclinical changes in maximal exercise capacity. Alongside disease specific changes, many of these findings share the phenotype of deconditioning following prolonged illness or bedrest. Partitioning of the relative contribution of pathological changes from COVID-19 and deconditioning is challenging in post-COVID syndrome recovery.