The obesity epidemic sweeping our nation has dramatic effects on health. Exercising is not only a key component in losing weight, but it may also affect the severity of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and help you sleep at night.
Researchers enrolled forty-three sedentary and overweight adults aged 18-55 years with at least moderate untreated OSA in a 12-week study to evaluate the efficacy of exercise as a treatment for sleep apnea. The participants were divided into two groups: One met 4 times per week and performed 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, followed by resistance training twice a week. The other group was the control and met twice weekly to perform low-intensity exercises designed to increase whole-body flexibility. Both groups underwent sleep studies before and after the exercise trial to determine severity of apnea. The results of the trial, published in the journal SLEEP, showed that the group that exercised weekly experienced a moderate reduction in their Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI), the measurement of the average number of breathing events per hour of sleep. The group that was limited to stretching did not experience this reduction.
Interestingly, the exercise group members did not experience any weight loss as a result of the exercise, suggesting the benefit of a reduced AHI was not in relation to losing weight. The researchers point out that further studies need to be done on this subject but speculate that “possible mechanisms of improvement in OSA following exercise training include a general strengthening and fatigue resistance of the ventilatory and upper airway dilator muscles, attenuation of respiratory instability from reduced sleep fragmentation, decreased nasal resistance, and prevention of lower-extremity fluid accumulation.”
Exercise is not a replacement for effective treatment such as CPAP or an oral appliance but a regular exercise program may help reduce your apnea severity.