Moderate, regular exercise has health benefits too numerous to list, among them — according to recent research — is that it may help prevent or reduce the adverse effects associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Exercise and Sleep Apnea

OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea, and it results in episodes in which breathing stops multiple times during sleep. Without treatment, it can lead to chronic daytime fatigue and difficulty concentrating, and increase a person’s risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes among other problems.

young adults running on treadmills at the gym

While previous studies have found that exercise can improve some symptoms of OSA, new research focused on whether fitness affected how patients register on the apnea/hypopnea index (AHI), a standardized scale based on the frequency of breathing interruptions. The findings, which were published online in advance of appearing in the July 2016 issue of the journal Respiratory Medicine, indicate that exercise alone can reduce the severity of OSA.

Fitness Fights Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Researchers analyzed data from previous studies, focusing on nearly 200 adults, most in their 40s, who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Scientists compared the health outcomes of those who exercised with those who did not; exercise included walking or running on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, or engaging in weight training at least two but as many as seven times per week.

Those who exercised experienced reduced breathing interruptions during sleep (AHI), and reported improved sleep and diminished daytime drowsiness. Improvements were similar regardless of the type of exercise, although the analysis did not determine what roles the duration and frequency of exercise may play.Nor did it look at the impact of exercise on snoring or other sleep apnea symptoms, including long-term health effects.

Exercise and Sleep Apnea Treatment

The study focused on exercise independent of other OSA treatments, including the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or an oral appliance designed to help sleep apnea sufferers maintain an open air passage during sleep.

Though exercise alone was associated with improved outcomes, it did not completely eliminate apnea episodes. However, the study suggests that regular physical fitness may be particularly beneficial as part of a comprehensive sleep apnea treatment plan that includes either CPAP or an oral device.

Denver sleep apnea dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has helped many patients manage sleep apnea and restore healthy, restful sleep with comfortable, custom-made oral appliances. If you experience regular snoring, recurring sleep interruptions and a continuous sense of drowsiness or fatigue, please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267 to schedule your appointment.